Armistice 100: Dramatic change in farming in Leeds and beyond

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Dateline: October 15, 1918: A hundred years ago today, the Yorkshire Evening Post carried news that ‘motorised ploughs’ were becoming more widespread.

The European War did much to change society. As we have already revealed in this column, it brought about a seismic shift in the social structure - the population of Leeds trebled from 1914-1918, for example, rising from around 70,000 to over 210,000. Technological advances were taking place too and perhaps one of the most important areas was agriculture, where it was still the norm for horses to pull ploughs.

According to the War Agricultural Committee of Yorkshire, the proliferation of motor ploughs were on the horizon. In the West Riding area, which included Leeds, Wetherby, Doncaster, Wakefield and Kellington near Selby, there were five ploughs run by private contractors “each equipped with ten tractors, ten ploughs or two or three furrows, four cultivators, three or four binders, two rollers, etc.” The article goes on to say the tractors in use have 20hp (horse power).

Minimum charges were also set by the committee. So, for example, ploughing light land (three horses work) would cost 22s 6d per acre, whereas ‘heavy land’ (4 horses work) would cost 37s 6d. Other rates were set for rolling, binding, breaking stubble after harvest and so on.

The charges were said to be “reasonable”, even though the previous year the government had undertaken such work at 15s an acre - this was said to have been at significant loss.

Meanwhile, tractors were said to be the hottest thing on the market, being snapped up almost as soon as they were put up for sale.