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Centre for Earth and Environmental Science Research

Agricultural Change in South-East England, 1941-1999

Executive Summary
ResearchersProf. N. S. Walford (Principal Investigator): CEESR
Dr R. Burton (Research Assistant)
Funding Body/SourceESRC
Duration1998 - 2005
Project SummaryThis project followed up doctoral research undertaken in the late-1970s and early 1980s to examine the patterns and processes lying behind the development of large-scale farming in south-east England. The research explored the responses of farmers operating large-scale businesses, especially those whose families had occupied the same holding since the early years of World War II, identified through the National Farm Survey, to the adjustment of agricultural policy since the 1980s.

The period after World War II witnessed substantial change in the structuring of the agricultural industry and the role of farming in the countryside of Britain and many other western countries. With the benefit of hindsight researchers in the 1980s argued that this protracted period of restructuring could be segmented into two main phases, commonly referred to as the productivist and post-productivist eras. During the productivist era farmers were viewed as having shifted their businesses along three axes or dimensions of change - concentration, intensification and specialisation (Bowler, 1985). This resulted in such features as increased farm size, mechanisation, virtually monoculture of certain crop types, field enlargement, hedgerow removal and pollution of the rural environment. The transition to the post-productivist era is generally viewed as starting in the 1980s and, in the European context, was associated with dysfunctional features of the European Community's Common Agricultural Policy that resulted in structural surplus production. The emergence of direct marketing to consumers, the diversification of farms to include leisure-oriented enterprises and engagement of farm family members with other industrial sectors were taken as examples of farming moving into a post-productivist phase.

Fig. 1 Large-scale commerical farming on the South Downs in south east England.

Walford (2003) and other researchers (e.g. Wilson, 2001) challenged the somewhat unrealistic assumption that farmers almost as one shifted their businesses along a linear continuum from a productivist to post-productivist mode of operation. The findings from this project showed that farmers operating large-scale farms could simultaneously display both productivist and post-productivist characteristics in running their businesses. Farmers had the capacity to absorb and incorporate the measures available under agri-environmental policy schemes prevailing at the turn of the 21st century, such as subsidies for setting aside areas of land from production, whilst maintaining an economically viable enterprise.


Bowler, I.R., 1985. Some consequences of the industrialization of agriculture in the European Community. In: Healey M.J., Ilbery B.W., (Eds.), The Industrialization of the Countryside. Geo Books, Norwich, pp. 75-98.

Wilson, G.A., 2001. From productivism to post-productivism y and back again? Exploring the (un)changed natural and mental landscapes of European agriculture. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 26, 77-102.


2003 Walford, N. S. Productivism is allegedly dead, long live productivism. Evidence of continued productivist attitudes and decision-making in south-east England, Journal of Rural Studies, 19(4): 491-502.

2005 Burton, R.J.F., Walford, N.S. Multiple succession on family farms in the South East of England: a counterbalance to agricultural concentration? Journal of Rural Studies, 21(3): 335-347.

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