Start of 20th Century

The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instructions was formed in 1900.   By the time the Department was formed,  the Land Commission purchase was underway.  Tenant farmers had security of tenure and rents set by the Land Commission.

The Land Commission had provided significant rent reductions in response to the decline in farm prices.  Shortly afterwards, the process of land purchase accelerated significantly, and the era of the landlord was rapidly ending.

The Congested Districts Board aimed to deal with some of the problems of the western seaboard, where numerous families lived on holdings of less than 5 acres relying on outside work, fishing, domestic industry, and migratory work in England. The Congested Districts Board concentrated on developing income sources inside and outside agriculture and promoting intensive agriculture.  By the turn of the century, it was under pressure from politicians to take over grazing land and resettle farmers from overcrowded coastal areas.

Department of Agriculture

The DATI assumed responsibility for various matters relating to agriculture, science and education from the existing Irish administration.  This included animal disease, regulating markets and fairs, fisheries, statistics, running the national library, museum, botanic gardens, geological survey and metropolitan school of arts.

The DATI had powers to introduce measures to assist agriculture and technical instruction in rural industries.  It received an annual grant and endowment from the government.  All expenditure was subject to approval by the board.

The chief secretary was the first president of the DATI, but its vice president was the effective head.  Horace Plunkett was the first vice president and a Unionist MP for Dublin.  He, however, lost his seat in the 1900 general elections.  He continued as head of the Department until after the 1906 general election.

Local Committees

The Act established a Council of Agriculture with 102 members, two-thirds of whom were selected by County Councils.  There were 32 nominated members.

Each County Council established under the Local Government Act 1898 was required to establish a county committee of agriculture and technical instruction.  This was to consist of councillors and nominees.

The DATI provided matching funding from the government to funding from rates / local taxes.  Counties were authorised to raise an agricultural portion of the rates. Each county committee submitted annual reports to the DATI assessing schemes it had operated during the period.

The DATI set about educating farmers by organising classes and producing leaflets.  Qualified instructors gave lectures and made presentations.

The Butter and Margarine Act provided for the registration of butter factories and premises where butter was blended.

The Agricultural Seeds  Ireland Act 1909 gave the Department the right to test seeds to ascertain their source.

Irish Independence

The Sinn Fein self-declared government of 1919 established its own agriculture ministry accountable to Dail Eireann. Upon the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, over half the workforce was engaged in agriculture.  In addition, many manufacturers,  wholesale and retail industries depended on agricultural produce, whether food or drink.

Patrick Hogan was appointed as Minister for Agriculture from 1922 to 1932.  The Department of Agriculture took over the functions of the pre-existing Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction.

A Department of Lands and Agriculture and a separate Department of Fisheries was established in 1923 and was confirmed in 1924.  Technical education, culture and educational establishments were transferred to the Department of Education.

The Forestry Act 1919 had established a Forestry Commission throughout the United Kingdom.  In 1923, forestry reverted to the Department of Agriculture.

County Committees

The Council of Agriculture and the Board of Agriculture were abolished in 1931 although they had not convened since 1920.  The Agriculture Act 1931 strengthened the position of county committees of agriculture.  Local agriculture schemes were administrated through the county committees.  Every electoral area was required to return three or four members.

In the 1920s there were two distinct sets of agricultural instructors, those employed by county committees of agriculture and those employed by the Department.  The latter was responsible for creamery management, seed testing, marketing agricultural produce, and instruction in the former congested districts. Instructors appointed by county committees were appointed by the local appointments commission.

Agricutural Standards

During the 1920s, marketing and quality control gained prominence.  The Dairy Produce Act 1924 sought to establish a national brand for all dairy exports.  It created an inspected bitter consign for export.

A national brand would not be launched until satisfactory standards were met.  It required the government to require all butter exporters to be registered and enabled inspections of premises used for packaging and blending butter and dairy products.

The Agricultural Produce Eggs Act 1924 prohibited the export of dirty eggs and required exports to be licensed.  Premises for eggs were packed for export were to be subject to inspection. The Agricultural Produce Potatoes Act provided for the export of potatoes.

The Livestock Breeding Act provided for the quality of Irish cattle by preventing the use of unsuitable sources.  Sugar beet was the only crop to receive price support during the 1920s.  A 7 year subsidy was paid to the promoters of the Carlow sugar beet plant.

Dairy Industry

An initial priority was the restructuring of the dairy industry.  There were 400 cooperative creameries and 180 proprietary creameries in the Free State.  A national dairy council was established.  The Condensed Milk Company of Ireland collapsed in 1926 controlling over half of the proprietary creameries in operation as well as 10 large condensing plants.

1927, the Free State government established a new semi-state body, the Dairy Disposal Company, to regularise and rationalise the industry. The new body took over the Condensed Milk Company, by far the largest producer in the country, as well as other smaller concerns.

The company continued to operate under State control until the early 1970s. At that stage, the government decided to break up the Dairy Disposal Company and transfer ownership of the creameries to a number of farmer co-operatives. In 1974, most of what remained of the Condensed Milk Company was sold to one of these, Golden Vale, subsequently a subsidiary of the Kerry Group.

The company was purchased by the State in 1927.  The Department sought to sell the various creameries and cooperative bodies.  The Minister for Finance gave loans to assist in the acquisition.  The Creamery Act 1928 established cooperative societies to issue share capital in order to buy the former creameries.

The Department was authorised to prevent the establishment of creameries that would damage an existing creamery.  However, the dairy disposal company continued in existence because of the failure to transform creameries into cooperatives.

Veterinary Surgeons

The Department of Agriculture remained responsible for the Botanic Gardens and the veterinary college in Dublin, as well as farm institutes, owned and controlled by the government.  Under the University Education Act 1926, the college of science and agricultural college was transferred to UCD and a faculty of dairy science was established in UCC.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in London had been responsible for the registration of vets in Ireland prior to independence.  Responsibility for the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons of Ireland was transferred to the Department of Agriculture in 1915, but the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons continued to be responsible for registration.

The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1928 provided that the NUI would organise exams and diplomas.   An Irish veterinary council would have the authority to determine qualifications for registration.  Irish qualified vets would be included in the general register of veterinary surgeons of Great Britain.

The Royal College agreed to concede the authority to regulate and discipline the profession in Ireland to the Irish veterinary council.  However, it insisted that the exams must be conducted by the RCVS to ensure uniform qualifications.  It agreed to allot four places on the council to representatives of the Irish Free State.

Land Tenure

By the establishment of the Irish Free State, 70 per cent of agricultural land was owned by the occupying farmers following the Land Purchase Acts in the earlier decades  The 1923 Land Act provided that all land to be transferred, whether tenanted or untenanted, would be vested in the Land Commission immediately.

The purchase prices were calculated on the basis of rent set by the Land Commission, subject to a reduction. Landlords would be paid 15 times the rental as the purchase price The money was ultimately financed in part by repayments of loans from the purchasing tenants.  Landlords would be paid a 10 per cent bonus.  They had the option of buying back their demesnes on the same terms as tenant farmers.

Rent arrears for the period before 1920 were forgiven and a 25 percent remission was given to later arrears.  Tenants were obliged to pay rent to the Land Commission until the sale was completed.

The 1923 Act provided for compulsory purchase nationally which had only previously applied in congested districts.  Where untenanted land was available, it was given to occupiers of uneconomic holdings, migrants evicted tenants and labourers who had lost their jobs as a result of land purchase. Between 1922 and 1932, the Land Commission distributed half a million acres to 25,000 families.

A commission on agriculture was appointed in 1922.  It produced five interim reports and a majority final report with a blueprint for agriculture for the remainder of the decade.

The new government continued the makes grants to the IAOS.  There was continued emphasis on the value of the cooperative movement.

Agricultural Credit

The ACC was established by legislation in 1927.  Three-fifth of the capital was provided by the State and the remainder was subscribed by commercial banks.  The Minister of Finance appointed three out of seven board members, including the chairman.

The remainder were elected by the shareholders, although it was agreed three would be nominated by the Irish bank standing committee.  The Agricultural Credit Act 1929 allowed ACC to advance loans on the security of unregistered title.

Agricultural Rates

Provisions were introduced for the remission of rates for farmers by doubling the grand in relief of agricultural rate.  Ultimately councils could remit agricultural rates by up to two-thirds and borrow money to make up the difference.

In 1925, the agricultural rates grant was doubled.  Agricultural land was debated in Britain in 1928. The Agricultural Act of 1931 made it mandatory for councils to raise a rate devoted to agricultural purposes


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