Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Jersey Agriculture and Horticulture in 1948

“The Norman Isles” by Basil C de Guerin, published in 1948 captures the immediate post-war era in the Channel Islands very well. In hindsight, of course, there is an almost tragic sense in which one reads the optimism about the tomatoes, about buyers coming from across the globe to buy Jersey cows, and the budding flower industry. The future seems so bright and hopeful, and while there is still very much a place for agriculture and horticulture in Jersey, it is but a shadow of its former self.

I have a personal interest in what he says about the Jersey cows, as my grandfather, H.G. Shepard was Secretary of the RJ&HS at the time, and I remember going round the flowers and fruit and vegetable competition displays at Springfield; his house in St Mark’s Road had a rear door which virtually opened into Springfield.

There are historical matters I’ve not read elsewhere – the several hundred Welsh women coming to work in Jersey for the season, for example. Did any of them settle? I’d like to think so. And the drought of 1947 had an impact on milk supplies. How severe was it?

Jersey Agriculture and Horticulture in 1948
The principal industries of Jersey have been from time immemorial agriculture and horticulture, the former having, of course, existed for many centuries during which period the famous breed of cattle which originates from the island has been evolved.

Of late years, the horticultural side of life as represented by the culture of potatoes and tomatoes has outstripped in financial importance the breeding and export of cattle, but the latter still exists as the outstanding jewel in the crown of the island's reputation. The history of the growth and development of the Jersey breed is too long to delve into here, and has been ably dealt with by authorities on the subject in separate works, all of which are available to those interested.

The official body which guides and. controls the destiny of the Jersey breed of cattle in its homeland is the Royal Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural Society, where all records are kept of island animals, their history and their pedigree, together with recordings of milk production and all other information from the day they are born until they leave the island, or to the day of their death.

Shows of cattle are held throughout the summer, the principal fixture being the Island Show organised by the Society mentioned above, at which annual Championships are awarded to bulls, cows and heifers. This display of some of the finest animals of this breed in the world is frequently attended by breeders and dealers from U.S.A., New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, as well as from England and, often, foreign countries.

In addition, there are a number of parochial shows held at intervals and limited only to the cattle owned by residents in the parishes concerned. These are also well attended by visitors who are constantly on the lookout for young stock which may not be displayed at the Island fixture.

At the time of writing the farming industry is passing through a phase, of unrest due to the necessity for adjustment to present conditions, and the question of limitation of exports of cattle is being seriously discussed as a precaution against a repetition of the unfortunate shortage of liquid milk which occurred during the summer of 1947, when consumption was greatly in excess of supply .owing to the unusual and prolonged drought which coincided with an unexpected influx of visitors.

The control of cattle is not the only care .of the R. J. A. & H Society, however, and an interest in horticulture and floriculture is taken by the members of this particular branch who organise flower shows and a popular annual competition between owners of gardens which is promoted for the purpose of brightening the countryside and stimulating interest in this art for its own sake, as compared with the purely commercial branch of the island trade.

Also interested in practical gardening and fruit growing is a local body known as the Society of Jersey Gardeners, which has recently celebrated its jubilee of a most useful work. This body of enthusiasts meets regularly: at monthly intervals throughout the year and, incidentally, claims a record for having done so regularly during the period of occupation when all meetings, or assemblies of any kind were strictly forbidden by the Germans.

At these monthly meetings papers are read and discussions held as at similar institutions throughout the world, but the. Jersey gardeners go even further by staging monthly exhibits. For these displays points are, awarded to the winner which count towards a cup awarded annually.. The example of this local society might well be followed by many' other places throughout the country for the purpose of stimulating a revival in .the cultivation of flowers and fruit.

The purely commercial side of horticulture on Jersey is not the concern of the local Royal Society, but is governed by the local Committee for Agriculture and Fisheries, the Farmers' Union, the various Producers' Associations, and similar bodies all working in conjunction with the English Ministry of Food through the Distributors' Associations on the mainland.

The principal crops controlled by these bodies are potatoes and tomatoes, both grown out-of-doors, although there is on the island a gradually increasing acreage of glass devoted to production of early tomatoes.

Owing to the earliness of the sheltered "cotils" and slopes of Jersey, :it is possible to raise early potatoes followed by tomatoes in the same season. For many years before the last war these crops had been increasing annually in importance until they had assumed the foremost place in the island economic system. Unfortunately, the Colorado Beetle established itself among the island potatoes and has caused a certain amount of dislocation of this traffic in the early years since hostilities ceased.: All precautions have been taken against this pest as well as steps for its eradication, and distribution of the potato crop upon the English Market has once again been permitted..

Originally, the bulk of the labour engaged on this work was that of Bretons imported for the purpose but, when this became unobtainable, men of the Polish Resettlement Corps were lent to the Jersey farmers for the season:. Labour on the picking, sorting and packing of tomatoes which is, of course, of a. lighter nature, has been entrusted to several hundred Welsh women brought to the island through the offices of the Ministry of Labour.

The supply of workers for seasonal occupations such as this is one of the great problems of the Channel Islands to-day, as there is, of course, no floating population on such isolated spots, and as every worker resident on the island mush be in steady employment in order to exist, there is no spare labour when seasonal needs arise, consequently importation from distressed areas elsewhere is the only solution.

Jersey's exports of tomatoes for 1947 were over 7 million packages of 12 lbs, each and it is hoped that the present season, at its height as this is written, will reach a still higher target unless there should be a set-back due to congestion of this fruit on the English market.

One of the important factors bearing on the well-being and growth of these and all other out-door crops on Jersey is the local custom of dressing the land with seaweed or "vraic", which dates from time immemorial in the history of the islanders. This cheap but effective form of manure has accounted for the present stamina of the island soil, and the gathering and distribution to the farms is a minor industry of considerable importance. This vraic may only be taken from the sea-shore at certain times of the year, when it is spread on the soil and allowed to dry out before digging in or alternatively, is ploughed in wet, or again; burned and applied as ashes, The latter has the :advantage of concentrating the natural mineral salts such as potash, iodine, phosphates, etc., and is used thus as a top dressing as, well as a base feed for all crops.

One of the peculiar sights to be seen on Jersey is the heaps of piled-up seaweed standing in rows like giant: beehives along the sea-shore above high water mark, placed there to be removed at the convenience of the carters.

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