28 JUNE 1940, Page 15

Agricultural Marketing

Feeding the Nation in Peace and War. By George Walworth. (Allen and Unwin. 18s.) THE history of Britain's Agricultural Marketing Schemes provides one of the most instructive lessons in attempts to regulate a difficult section of the national economy : how Lord Addison's original plans for co-operative or corporative marketing became trans- formed into a series of Producers' Boards, how certain of the Boards found themselves up against equally strong organisations of distributors, how difficult it proved to introduce quantitative limitation of output, how, without this, price maintenance depended on Government assistance in the form of tariffs on subsidies, and how wide has been the clash between the aims of producers and the requirements of the consuming public.

Mr. Walworth has attempted such a history. He completed his account of the marketing schemes before war broke out, he has added a chapter on war food policy, and concocted a topical but misleading title. Students will be grateful for the enormous amount of information he has assembled, but they will wish it had been better digested. He covers too wide a canvas, leaving himself insufficient space for analysis and interpretation. The first 140 pages, describing events from 1913 to 1933, are quite unconnected with the main theme, reveal a surprising ignorance of source material, and should have been omitted. The succeed- ing chapters on each of the schemes are cluttered up with inordi- nately long quotations from Acts and Orders, and from the Eco- nomic Bulletins of the Ministry of Agriculture, but we are given no critical examination of how the schemes actually worked. Rew, Middleton, Fielding, Hall, and a host of others are quoted, but we rarely discover Mr. Walworth's own views.

If he had known his sources better he might have achieved greater conciseness. He makes no use, prior to 192, of the annual volumes of Agricultural Statistics, nor, for foreign coun- tries, of those provided by the International Institute of Agri- culture; he quotes the Linlithgow Report, but never the Agricul- tural Tribunal; he ignores the official annual estimates of gross agricultural output, and he goes for Danish statistics to a Saskatchewan publication. His latest figures for co-operative societies arc for 1922, for Danish dairying 1929, and for the British sugar industry 1933-4. Further the descriptions of pro- duction and marketing abroad are so inaccurate that they would have been better omitted. Why talk of U.S. grain marketing with no reference to " Triple A," or of wheat regulation in France without mentioning the Office du Ble? (Here and elsewhere several misprints and mistatements mar the narrative.)

Turning to the British Boards, his account becomes disap- pointingly colourless. The Hops Scheme, for instance, shame- lessly secured a substantial capital increment to existing growers,

yet the author's only remark is a tribute to its success. s. The Pigs and Bacon Schemes worked to the profit and advantage of the larger curers, yet we find no comment on this. The really fasci- nating .problems of the Milk Board have been the framing of price policy as between producers in eastern and western coun- ties, the attempts to control the manufacturing market, and the unending tussles with the distributors. Yet throughout one hun- dred pages on milk and dairy products these matters are scarcely touched. Nor is there any criticism of the big distributors. Mr. Walworth condemns producer-control, and in the same para- graph quotes figures (page 503) showing it was the distributors who got the biggest rake-off.

It is difficult to discover what is Mr. Walworth's own pro- gramme for food production and marketing. In Chapter 2 he quotes with evident approval a plan for making Britain self- sufficient in food—an absurd plan which would leave, apart from rough grazings, only four million acres of grassland to carry all our livestock. We are then left in suspense till page 497, when we are told that " there is no case for self-sufficiency in food production." As for marketing, the author is still more elusive. He wants to start from the " optimum retail price "; he also wants compulsory grading and standardisation of foodstuffs. But how, for instance, are we to grade and mark meat? Part of the shoulder may be tough and part lean; and should it be branded with indelible ink? As for the optimum retail price, how define it except as " one penny less than yesterday's price "? Even potato-consumption jumps up when the price is significantly re- duced, as the Bishop Auckland experiment showed. We are left wondering what Mr. Walworth really does want.

It still remains for someone to write a fearless critique of the marketing experiments, and show us how to do better next time.