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Banffshire
Chapter 11. Agriculture


Agriculture is pursued in a most enterprising and enlightened manner, and both in arable farming and in the excellence of farm stock, the county takes a high position. Along the coast the soil consists mostly of sand and loam, the latter by far the more predominant, and these in several districts are blended with a proportion of clay soil. The arable surface along the coast lies in general upon a free open bottom, while that of the interior is mostly a light black soil on a hard bottom, retentive of water, hence one of the causes of the lateness of the crops in these districts.

Up to the middle of the eighteenth century improvements in agriculture were few. The arable lands were divided into outfield and infield. To the infield, which consisted of the acreage nearest to the farm house, the whole manure was regularly applied; the only crops cultivated on it were oats, bere and peas, and the land was kept in tillage as long as it would produce two or three returns of the seed sown. When the field became so reduced and so full of weeds as not to yield this return, it was allowed to lie in natural pasture for a few years, after which it was again brought under cultivation and treated in the same manner. The outfield lands were wasted by a succession of oats after oats so long as the crops would pay for seed and labour. They were then allowed to remain in a state of absolute sterility, producing little else than thistles and other weeds till, after having been rested for some years, they were again brought under cultivation and a few scanty crops obtained. There are authenticated cases of fields in Alvah and Boyndie which carried respectively 12, 14, and rq crops of oats in succession. The system of farming pursued was clearly described by Alexander Garden of Troup, writing in 1686. The land as stated, was divided into "in-field" and "outfield." The in-field was kept "constantly under corne and bear, the husbandman dunging it every thrie year, and if he reap the fourth corne, he is satisfied." The outfield was allowed to grow green with weeds and thistles, and after four or five years of repose was twice ploughed and sown with corn. Three crops were generally taken in succession and then, or as soon as the soil was too exhausted to repay seed and labour, reverted to thistle and weeds. That this system was regarded as completely satisfactory, is shown by the old proverb:

If the land be thrie year oot and thrie year in,
'Twill keep in good heart till the Deil gaes blin.

If credit for the change is to be given to one man more than another, it is due to James, sixth Earl of Findlater and third Earl of Seafield (d. 1770). He was an enthusiastic agriculturist, and practically transformed the face of his extensive territories, a sober eulogist writing that to him appertained "the exclusive merit of introducing into the North of Scotland those improvements in agriculture and manufactures, and all kinds of useful industry, which in the space of a few years raised his country from a state of semi-barbarism to a degree of civilisation equal to that of the most improved districts of the south." It was he who, about i 754, introduced in the north the system of alternate husbandry. He took some of his farms into his own possession, set about cultivating them in the most approved manner then known in England, under the oversight of experienced men from the south, and in a few years improved such farms as Craigherbs in the parish of Boyndie and Colleonard in the parish of Banff as well as the fields about Cullen House in a manner then unknown in these districts. He further granted to some of the most intelligent and substantial tenants leases for two 19 years and a lifetime, under which they became bound to enclose and subdivide a certain portion of the farm with stone fences or ditch and hedge during the first 19 years, and in the course of the second 19 years to enclose the remainder, while they had to sow grass seeds on a certain number of acres within the first five years of the lease. He was the first also to introduce turnip husbandry and thus pave the way for the home-feeding of cattle during winter. Other landed proprietors acted on a similarly enlightened policy. James, Earl of Fife, granted leases to improving tenants of from 25 to 30 years, with an ample allowance for building houses and dykes; and Alexander Garden of Troup followed a similar practice.

By 1812, on the larger farms where long leases had been granted, turnips were being laid down with manure, and grass seeds were being sown with bere or oats. A further improvement was effected when the broad-cast sowing of turnips gave place to drill husbandry. In course of time the eight or ten owsen plough was abandoned for an implement of greater tillage power hauled by horses, while with the improvement of roads the double carts (carts, that is, with a shaft and a trace horse to one cart) gave place to single-horse carts.

The system of holding land under lease for a period of years still prevails. In the uplands the arable area rises from the valley and ascends the hillside till it abuts on the heather; and in these high-lying places account has to be taken of losses through stress of weather and by game, so that in some seasons quantities of reliable seed have to be imported from more favoured districts, all circumstances that are, as a rule, reflected in the amount of the rental.

Wheat used to be grown to some extent, but in this northern climate the quality was often indifferent and the produce variable; and that, together with low prices and the poor feeding qualities of the straw, has led to its practical disappearance. Oats of the potato variety are chiefly grown; Sandwich oats, and more recently, black oats, are also cultivated, while of late years the large American varieties have been introduced. The standard weight is 42 lbs. per bushel. A large part of the oat crop is manufactured locally into oat meal, but much of it goes also to Newcastle and Leith, a considerable part for consumption in the hunting districts. The barley grown in the county is not often of the bright and attractive colour that is desired by brewers, but it finds a large and remunerative market at local malt distilleries. The turnip crop is vital to the industry of a county that is essentially a stock-rearing and feeding area. During the long northern winter, cattle kept for breeding purposes and young stock get little save turnips and oat straw, thriving magnificently upon such a diet, while cattle that are in course of finishing have supplies of feeding cake and second qualities of grain. Hay is for the most part grown only for local needs. Flax, raised. in small quantities in every quarter of the county a century ago, is now seldom seen.

There are in the county 3418 agricultural holdings of an average size of 46.8 acres. Of that number 2333, or 68.26, have an area of from 1 to 50 acres; there are 1059 holdings of between 5o and 300 acres, and 26 farms of over 300 acres.

The area of the county, excluding water, is 403,053 acres; and in the year 1919 there were under corn crops and rotation grass 126,377 acres. The following figures show the cultivation of crops at different periods, and the average yearly yield over a period of ten years:

The county is very wealthy in its pure-bred farm-stock. Of the native Aberdeen-Angus breed (indigenous to the north of Scotland and now found, by its own great beefing merits, in every agricultural country), Banffshire possesses the most famous collection in the world—that of Sir George Macpherson Grant, Bart., of Ballindalloch, one of the oldest herds of the variety and as famous on American ranches, on the estancias of the Argentine, on the veldt of South Africa and in the New Zealand bush, as it has for many years been in this country. All the world over this great collection at the confluence of the Spey and the Aven is regarded as the fountain-head of the breed. There are other Aberdeen-Angus herds of great excellence in the county. The "great intruder," the Shorthorn, has also found a favoured home. Eden and Rettie were among the earliest seats of the breed in the north of Scotland, and in the case of this as of the other great cattle breed, many of the local herds are well known in national showyards and in the foreign trade. The commercial cross cattle of the county are of a high standard, and in the most discriminating meat market of the world, that of Smithfield, they are included in the number of select cattle classed as "Prime Scots," and uniformly bring the extreme price of the day. On several occasions cattle bred and fed in the county have won the blue ribbon of the fat stock world—the championship of the London Smithfield Show. At the Scottish Fat Stock Show and at the show of the Smithfield Club in 1919, the champion and reserve champion of both came from Banffshire herds on Speyside, a circumstance unexampled in the agricultural annals of any county in the Kingdom.

Of late years an increased amount of attention has been devoted to Clydesdale breeding, and in the production of strong active geldings for city use, the county enjoys a high reputation. Sheep, too, are a valuable farming asset. There are some select flocks of Leicesters and Cheviots, but there are larger numbers of black-faced and cross-breds, which spend the summer months on the hills and in the hard weather are wintered in the pastures and surplus turnips of the low country. The possessions of the county in farm live-stock at different periods have been:

The difference in the physical character of the two local government districts in the county is well illustrated by figures of cultivation and live-stock. In the level and fertile Banff district there are i 25,645 acres and in the more mountainous Keith district there are 277,408 acres, while the principal figures of crops and stock in 1919 were:

The value of the crops grown in the county in the years mentioned is of interest. In the case of the principal field produce the fiars prices struck were as follows, barley and oats being both first quality and the price per imperial quarter, while the oatmeal is per boll of 140lbs.:


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