The Trend of England's Food Problem before the War
At the bottom of the whole problem is Great Britain's acknowledged supremacy of the seas for more than two hundred years, in respect to both its navy and its merchant marine. Its navy developed with its trade. Its trade was made possible by its merchant marine, which, traveling the high seas, carried enterprising Englishmen bearing the British flag to all parts of the globe. From these trading outposts the British Empire developed, and by reason of these connections the United Kingdom became the industrial center of the Empire and of the world. With the growth of industry stimulated by the profits of worldwide trade, agriculture declined in relative importance. Free trade came to be accepted as necessary to the welfare of the nation; it was the logical outcome of the doctrine of industrial liberty. English agriculture, though naturally at a disadvantage compared with the territories opened up to British trade, could not claim immunity from the general principle of free trade. The workers in industry wanted cheap food, and they got it through trade in exchange for manufactured goods. The inevitable result was that farming in the United Kingdom became relatively unprofitable and stopped growing.
Changes in English agriculture became distinctly noticeable when the large quantities of cheap grain from the newly developed American prairies were placed on the market in competition with home grown grain. After 1870, the imports of American grain were sufficient in quantity and so low in price that English farmers were obliged to produce at a loss or go out of business. The result was that the less desirable wheat lands were devoted to other uses, mostly being laid down to grass. In 1872 the acreage of plow land in Great Britain was at its maximum, 13,839,000