Humbie | Economy

While the parish supported no large-scale industry, from the 1970s onwards, a number of non-agricultural local enterprises were set up to supply goods and services to Edinburgh & the Lothians, and further afield. Most of these were for the self-employed or employed one or two out-workers. However, in addition to Johnstounburn House Hotel, two had by 2000 developed into significant local employers: Mavis Hall Park, a corporate entertainment business with six full time and several part-time staff organising country pursuits events, and Windymains Sawmill, with approximately 30 employees.

The smaller businesses included a house extension business, a model maker, a civil engineering plant contractor, and a producer of specialised wool products. The local authority gave this movement encouragement by the construction in the late 1980s of two houses with workshops as part of the Kippethill development.

Humbie though remained essentially an agricultural parish. In 1945, the hill farms continued to be stocked with mainly black-faced sheep and hill cattle. The lower farms were principally concerned with stock rearing, of both sheep and cattle, which together with the arable crops grown mainly to support them permitted a rotation of crops and little requirement for imported fertilisers. Additional cattle were bought in for fattening in cattle courts during the winter months. Stock was fed during the winter from home-grown sources. Concrete silage towers had been built on a number of farms in the 1930s and silage pits were used until the introduction of baled silage in the 1980s. In addition oats and barley were grown for cattle feed and turnips and potatoes for stock feed. Some barley and potatoes both for seed and for stock feed were sold but the predominant source of income was the sale of livestock, usually on a weekly basis at local markets.

Market days also provided farmers with contact with the outside world and an opportunity for the informal exchange of farming news, to complement that provided by the many visiting representatives of the farming supply companies. Turnips were thinned and potato crops were harvested by itinerant groups of predominantly Irish labourers who were temporarily accommodated in bothies provided on each farm. Mechanised potato picking and the increasing cost of itinerant labour led to the discontinuation of this practice during the 1950s. The bothies were generally cottages with basic furnishings, and were sold for conversion in the late 1960s, or refurbished and let by the individual farmers.

In the 1953 account the Rev Bain recorded (p254) that farm workers moved often, usually within the Lothians. Moreover farmers were having difficulty in persuading workers to come to this comparatively remote spot, where their needs would be ‘very indifferently met by available transport services’ (p255) and so on, and where their tied cottages might have only very basic facilities. Some farmers built new cottages at this time (eg Hattonhill) and four council houses were built opposite the post office.

‘Owing to the difficulty of engaging farm workers mechanisation has proceeded perhaps even more rapidly than at lower levels’ (p256).

The village still supported a joinery business, but the smithy only had a visiting smith to shoe 60 horses (a reduction from 250 c1920). In 1966 the WRI recorded that the hill farms (still) carried Blackface and Cheviot ewes, there were no dairy herds, and that most farms carried suckler cows.

By the 1970s a number of farms had specialist herds of cattle, including Luing cattle at Duncrahill, Charolais at Windymains, and Aberdeen Angus at Humbie Mains. In 1971 sheepdog trials were held to raise funds for the new village hall, and were held annually from then until 1983. In 1983 a small flock of Wensleydale sheep was established at Leaston, which by 2000 had grown to about 50 and formed the basis of the ‘Pride of Lammermuir’ wool products business.

Since 1947 farm prices were supported by ‘deficiency payments’ from the UK government and subsequently by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the EEC/EU. This changed the economics of UK (and Humbie) farming, making the growing of cereals as a cash crop more attractive than stock rearing. In particular, the lower farms reduced livestock and extended the production of barley especially for malting. Large grain drying and storage sheds were constructed in the 1970s, the previous crop rotations were no longer possible and greater reliance was placed on artificial fertilisers and pest control chemicals. The quantities of straw produced were sold, sometimes on the field, to stock farmers in the area and further afield for winter bedding. The introduction of the round bale, and the mechanical handling of these, further reduced the requirements for manpower on the farms. Straw bales and polythene-bagged silage bales stored in the fields became a feature of the landscape.

By 1989 significant changes in farming practice were recorded by the WRI: whereas in 1966 a high proportion of arable crops were fed on the farm, ewes and cows had now been moved to higher ground and replaced by intensive cash cropping, made possible by agro-chemicals and plant research, and encouraged by the EEC support system and intervention. In addition to wheat, malting barley, and potatoes, oil seed rape and new varieties of peas and beans for animal feeds were being grown. The growing of peas and beans proved unsatisfactory due to difficulties in harvesting and transporting to distant processors, and was soon discontinued.

At the end of the 1990s the price of lambs was such that the hill farms were largely dependent on cattle for income, few of the lower farms carried sheep, and some (eg Windymains) had become entirely arable. Potatoes were being grown on only four farms, two by contractors, and turnips for stock feeding on two. The Aberdeen Angus herd at Humbie Mains continued but on a reduced scale, and Duncrahill had to some extent diversified into horse-breeding activities. To support major investments in larger more productive machinery, farmers were working more land, for longer periods, and with less manpower. Upper Keith, for example, in 1970 had a manager and four full time workers on the farm; in 2000 a manager and one man farmed Upper Keith and was also contracted to farm another Humbie property of similar size.