On the 2nd September in 1904 a group of nine Lincolnshire farmers decided to establish
the Lincolnshire Farmers' Union. From this regional initative emerged the new National
Farmers' Union or NFU which held its first meeting at the Agricultural Hall, Islington,
London, on the 10th December 1908.
The reason that British farmers felt it necessary to form a union was down to the fact
that British agriculture had been in decline for decades faced with competition from cheap
grain imported from north America, cheap dairy products from Australia and New
Zealand, cheap beef from Argentina and so on. Their reaction to this crisis was the
standard reaction of all businessmen faced with economic change; organise and ask the
government for a hand out.
It was to their advantage that Britain found itself engaged in two world wars when
foreign trade was restricted and Britain needed to be able to feed itself, but during the
inter war period the NFU proudly boasted of success in persuading the British government
to both fix prices and hand out subsidies in the form of grants for this that. The exemption
from the payment of rates on agricultural land came in 1929, the Wheat Act was passed in
1932 to fix the price and a cartel was set up to control the sale of milk in 1933 ( the
Milk Marketing Board) . After World War II it was more of the same, more grant schemes,
more marketing boards.
The NFU was a strong supporter of British entry into the Common Market (as the
European Union was known in the 1960's and 70s) which promised more of the same only this
time on a wider scale. But reliance on government for your economic livelihood is a double
edged sword; with a current administration which neither understands nor cares about them,
the NFU finds itself increasingly marginalised and with no clear sense of direction.