Labour & rents
One of the consequences of mechanisation in agriculture was the dramatic decline in the full-time labour force employed on the county’s farms over the last 55 years. In 1945, the county’s total labour force was just over 2700; women workers, ‘land girls’ were regularly employed, and squads of Irish workers were hired through merchants for the potato-picking season. By the mid 1970s, the figures had more than halved to less than 1000, and by 2000 had halved again to less than 500 workers.
By 2000, many farms were worked by family members alone. The modern farm needed fewer workers, but those required were of a different calibre. They needed to understand the intricacies, and be skilled in the use, of specialized (expensive) farm machinery, perhaps computer-controlled; they needed to have the necessary certificates to operate forklift trucks, and to handle and apply chemicals and fertilizers; and they had to know and work within the guidelines of the Health & Safety, and other, regulations. The farm itself became increasingly administrative, with Government demanding more detailed information on crops and stock. The BSE crisis of 1986 onwards led to the introduction in July 1996 of cattle passports (under the aegis of the British Cattle Movement Service) and compulsory ear-tagging. By 2000, the computer and computerized record-keeping systems were essential tools in the farm office.
The change in the area of rented farmland in East Lothian during the last 50 years reflected the pattern seen throughout Scotland. In 1950, 65% of all farmland was rented from a variety of landlords with different sizes of estates. By 1975, the area of rented farmland had been reduced to 43% of the total farmland area and by the year 2000 a further reduction had taken place when only 22% of the farmland was tenanted. This trend represented a massive turnaround in land tenure in a relatively short period and was encouraged by favourable (to the tenant) tenancy laws, which meant that the rented farms were more valuable to the sitting tenant than to any prospective landlord. Valuations at the end of the period indicated that tenanted land was worth approximately half that of freehold land. In addition, in the earlier part of this period, penal inheritance taxation resulted in many estates being broken up to raise money to pay the tax, by being offered to the tenants to purchase. The change in land tenure during the period represented a very large investment in land, by the farmers, albeit at reduced valuations, much of which was supported by bank borrowings.