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National Farm Survey

With the start of the Second World War in September 1939, Britain had to face up to an urgent need for an increase in food production. Imports of food as well as fertilisers were drastically cut and so the government had to find a way of increasing significantly and quickly the area of land under cultivation. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries set up War Agricultural Executive Committees in each county, known as ‘County War Ags’. They were to carry out surveys of the farms in their area in the years between 1940 and 1941. The information collected would identify uncultivated land to be farmed and to improve poor farms.

After an increase of food production had been achieved, the government then decided to carry out a more general National Farm Survey between 1941 and 1943. This second survey had a longer-term purpose to provide the authorities with data that would form the basis of post-war planning allowing a comprehensive record of the conditions on the farms of England and Wales.

The survey covered every farm and holding of five acres and more, including those of market gardeners, horticulturists and poultry-keepers. The National Farm Survey that resulted from this was made up of two distinct components:

  • A set of forms completed by the farmers and also the farm inspectors making up record series MAF 32 at The National Archives (TNA).
  • Secondly, a set of maps for each county that had as their base the Ordnance Survey maps and which showed the land belonging to each farm. These are also in The National Archives and make up record series MAF 73.

These National Farm Survey records are not viewable online so to see them, including the maps, you will need to go to The National Archives at Kew or get a researcher to visit TNA for you.

The maps that go with this survey are a graphic index to the individual farm records in the series MAF 3. The Ordnance Survey maps used as a base have handwritten details added to them showing where each farm lay and its extent. The most complete maps identify each farm by:

  • a colour wash over a whole area, or areas bordered with coloured boundaries
  • individual farm codes annotated in black ink that researchers could use to find the corresponding individual farm records
  • cross references, identifying farms that extended over more than one map, to the map sheets on which the additional land holdings appear.

Having identified a farm on a map and tracing it back to the farm record could allow a researcher to then find the name and address of a farmer, the parish and see details of the farm. These included what was grown e.g. small fruit, vegetables, etc and stocks of hay and straw. It also recorded the agricultural land, labour, engines, rent, and length of occupancy.

There was also a form that was known as the Primary Farm Survey and was completed by an inspector who paid a visit to the farm and interviewed the farmer. The Primary Farm Survey was set out in four sections:

  • section A: ‘tenure’, recording whether the farmer was a tenant on the land or the owner, full or part time
  • section B: ‘conditions of farm’, where an assessment was made of the farm layout, soil type, condition of buildings and roads, as well as the degree of infestation with weeds or pests
  • section C: water and electricity provision at the farm
  • section D: ‘management’, in which the inspector had to classify the farm into one of three categories depending on how he considered a farmer managed his resources:
    • A = well
    • B = fairly well
    • C = badly

Thus, if you are researching an ancestor who was either a tenant farmer or owned their farm at the beginning of WW2 then these maps and their accompanying books could be an interesting line to follow.