Ley Farming


Sir R. George Stapledon
C.B.E., M.A., F.R.S.


William Davies

Faber and Faber Limited
24 Russell Square

First published in mcmxli by Penguin Books
This revised edition published in mcmxlviii by Faber and Faber Limited
24 Russell Square London W.C.1
Printed in Great Britain by Latimer Trend & Co Ltd Plymouth
All rights reserved


Authors' Preface
1. Historical
2. Types of British Grassland
3. Grassland Succession
4. The Basis of Ley Farming
5. Modern Developments Influencing Ley Farming
6. How to Change Over to Ley Farming
7. The Correct Place for the Ley in the Rotation
8. Direct Reseeding
9. Pioneer Crops
10. Pretreatment
11. The Improvement of Permanent Pastures and Rough Grazings
12. Species and Strains of Herbage Plants
13. Seeds Mixtures
14. The Management of the Ley
15. The Choice of Varieties of Cereals and other crops
16. Herbage Seed Production
17. Rotations and the Need for Simple Experiments

Authors' Preface

This book was written early in the war and the first edition was published in 1941. The event has proved it was fortunate that the idea of ley farming and re-seeding worn out permanent pasture had begun to appeal to pioneer farmers prior to 1939. We had moved some way in the perfecting of appropriate technique, and more important still, in the awakening of interest before increased food production had become a matter of vital national urgency.

Much has happened since 1941, both on the farm lands of Britain and in our national affairs. Only a wishful thinker, oblivious to the facts of to-day, could feel even reasonably happy about the food situation of the world in general or of this little country in particular. A food crisis was inevitable. The war has been responsible for accelerating and accentuating trends that, even in a world superficially at peace, were steadily, if comparatively slowly, gaining momentum. There can be no certainty of a sudden termination to our food difficulties in this country, leave alone all question of our moral obligation to the peoples of the world less favourably placed than we are. We in this country are blessed with a soil and climate which render high production not only possible, but, in terms of good husbandry, possible without risk of injury to the substance of our soils or to their fertility. If we are to play fair by our own people and by the people of the world, we have no alternative but to embark upon a long term (a term of indefinite duration) scheme of farming that will produce the maximum amount of the most urgently needed foods from our own acres, and by methods that will enhance and not deplete soil fertility.

We have squarely to face the fact that the food situation is as serious now as it was at any time during the war, and serious it will long remain. No doubt there will be the ebb and flow of seasons, the ebb and flow of various national and international arrangements and agreements, but the basal fact remains that the world is not producing enough food adequately to feed and nourish all its peoples.

We have learned a great deal about ley farming since 1941; a mass of experience has been gained on soils of all types in all parts of the country. Here we are only concerned with the system. Ley farming is alternate husbandry with the emphasis placed on the ley. The ley, we insist -- and this the war has abundantly proved -- is of especial value in taking care of soil structure and of the all-important humus content of the soil, while everywhere grass is now recognized as being one of our most valuable crops in its own right. The need of our country is for more milk (assuredly the most important of all nutrients to maintain a nation in exuberant health), more meat, more vegetables, and always we must grow enough wheat and other cereals to supply a high proportion of our own and our animals' needs. Ley farming is the system that makes all this possible, with slight variants in the rotations and cropping, wherever the plough can operate. It is by ley farming that we can continue high production of both wheat and animal products on our heavy clay soils, that we can produce barley, meat and milk on our lighter soils. By ley farming, instead of relying upon all-permanent grass, we can greatly increase the self-sufficiency of thousands of our stock farms and lose nothing, and indeed gain much, in the tonnage of grass nutrients produced per farm. The great lesson of the war on the lands of Britain has been the especial applicability of ley farming properly conducted to the difficult position in which the country now finds itself. Indeed it is not too much to say that ley farming is more applicable to-day than it was even during the war years. Here is a system which can at once take care of the soil, provide us with an abundance of feed for stock, and a goodly acreage of crops for direct human consumption. The indications are that, at long last, silage may come into its own, and there is no doubt at all that the best use cannot be made of the ley, and that alternate husbandry will not contribute all it should to our national need, unless surplus summer grass is conserved as protein rich material for winter feed. There is a great future for both silage and grass-drying, and to a large extent they are complementary, and the ley has much to contribute to the conservation of maximum quantities of grass nutrients.

The ley system can only win useful and food producing ground at the expense of permanent grass. It is of interest, therefore, to see the trend of the ploughing-up of permanent grass since 1939. Here are the acreages in permanent grass for England and Wales from 1939 to 1947:

It is to be noted that our lowest acreage in permanent grass was in 1944, and that since then it has been slowly rising again -- an ill omen. Actually our rate of attack on permanent grass reached its zenith in 1943. From the outbreak of the war till 1943, we were breaking permanent grass at the average rate of 1,336,000 acres per annum. During the year ending 1944, we only ploughed up 600,000 acres and thereafter we fell completely from grace. Had we maintained our endeavours up to the standard of our 1939-43 effort, the area in permanent grass at the end of 1947 would have been only 5,017,000 acres -- and how different our food position to-day! In our view, every endeavour should now be made to renew our mass attack on permanent grass, and to reduce it to not more than 5,000,000 acres by say 1955.

The ploughing up of permanent grass has naturally been highly differential in different parts of the country, and this is well shown if we compare the percentage contributed by leys to the total of permanent grass and leys, and also the percentage of permanent grass to the total of cultivated land. We give hereunder the figures for 1946, and it will be of interest first to show the difference between England, Wales and Scotland respectively:

England and Wales compare very unfavourably with Scotland, while we are by no means prepared to agree that Scotland herself has a sufficiently high proportion of leys to permanent grass, or that her acreage in permanent grass is not, as such, excessive. In the light of the above figures, those for the following essentially grass counties in England and Wales speak for themselves:

If for the moment we take Scotland as our ideal, we see that Cornwall comes out best, but we must remember that the average length of ley is decidedly longer in Cornwall than in Scotland. The eight other counties are far below the averages for the whole of England (English Counties) and Wales (Welsh Counties). It is quite obvious that neither the ploughing-up campaign nor the tendency towards ley farming has made any very great impression on the above counties. In all of them there is still far too much permanent grass, and the ratio of leys to permanent grass is still desperately over-weighted in favour of permanent grass. This is perhaps most strikingly so in Counties like Somerset, Derbyshire, Carmarthenshire, and Glamorganshire where milk production is an important feature of the farming. The above comparisons are sufficient to show that despite the progress made during the war years, we still have a very long way to go in our attack on permanent grass, and in making full and proper use of the ley system to the best national advantage.

While giving comparisons between counties, and in order to show the influence of the war ploughing on the most grassy counties in England and Wales, it is worth while to set out the foilowing comparative figures:

The figures show that the grassiness of all these nine most grassy counties in England and Wales has been appreciably reduced. The most striking and substantial reduction has been achieved in Monmouthshire, and this is as it should be for this is a county with great potentialities for ley farming and increased crop production. The plough then has started to move, if but gently, in even the most grassy of our counties. What is now wanted is added momentum everywhere.

It will perhaps be appropriate to cast our eyes back over the years and say a few words about the genesis of the work and experiences that have led to the writing of this book. Change is as much due to altered attitude of mind, the result primarily of hard necessity, as to increased knowledge.

The move in the direction of ploughing up permanent grass and towards ley farming was very slow at first and then as the result of dire need, by comparison, was almost unbelievably fast. The elder of the present authors first realized the iniquity of permanent grass as long ago as 1910 on the Cotswolds. In those days the Cotswolds consisted chiefly of outrun Sainfoin leys some of which, no doubt, were returned as leys, others as permanent grass -- all were worthless. In war No. 1, the elder author working for the then Food Production Department, made a bird's-eye survey of English Grasslands -- dreadful, most of them were. When the Welsh Plant Breeding Station was founded in 1919, then it was possible to start proper researches. We have drawn largely upon the results of experiments conducted at Aberystwyth. In later years, however, our field of experience and experimenting was greatly widened. In 1938 we started a survey of the Grasslands of England for the Ministry of Agriculture. This work was the major responsibility of the younger author. (When in the following text the first person singular is employed, the initials 'R.G.S.' or 'W.D.' will indicate which of the authors is responsible.) The survey was completed soon after the war broke out. This was providential for it provided an invaluable body of information and incidentally added greatly to our own knowledge of English Grasslands -- a survey of the Grasslands of Wales had previously been made.

In 1940 the Ministry of Agriculture set up the Grassland Improvement Station at Drayton, Stratford-on-Avon. Experiments were not only immediately started at this station, but also in many parts of England. From 1940 onwards we were able to accumulate evidence ever more rapidly and under ever widening conditions. Our appreciation of the general problems of grassland have been, we hope, heightened by the fact that both of us have studied grassland problems overseas. The elder author was in Denmark and Sweden in 1919, in the United States of America and in Canada in 1922 and in Australia and New Zealand in 1926.

Subsequently the younger author (as Empire Grassland Investigator) spent a considerable time in the two last-named countries and later made a detailed study of the grasslands of the Falkland Islands as well as making more rapid reconnaisance surveys of grasslands problems in South America, countries of western Europe and, more recently, in the Africas.

New knowledge on Grassland is accumulating fast, but there remains a great amount of detailed field work still to be done before the new evidence can be used to the best practical advantage. We feel therefore that it would have been premature to have attempted drastically to revise our presentation of the facts for this new edition. The basal technique and principles as here set forth, stand. Indeed they have already withstood a very severe test since 1941. There is still much building to be done on the foundations we have described, and it is our hope that the reappearance of this book which for some time has been out of print will be of assistance to those who wish to embark upon ley farming or to modify their present methods. Thanks are due to our many colleagues, both in the research and advisory services, who at all times have freely given us valuable information. We are also greatly indebted to that large body of farmers and to members of the seed trade from all of whom, in connection with our far-flung experiments and numerous advisory visits, we have derived much encouragement and have learned so much of real practical importance.

Next: 1. Historical

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