Agricultural Organization Society (AOS)

The setting up of the Agricultural Organization Society (AOS)

It was through his efforts with the cooperative dairy that Hugh got involved with his cousin W.L. Charleston, in forming the AOS. This was a Westminster based, non-party organization, aimed at helping farmers to work out their own solutions to the improvement of agriculture. The AOS was founded in April 1901, with Robert Yerburgh, MP as President, W.L. Charleston and Hugh being among the committee of ten. It was based on the highly successful, and still functioning, Irish Agricultural Organization Society.

The formation of cooperatives was key to AOS policy, as was clearly stated in its objectives in its first annual report in 1901:

The AOS is the central organization and parliament of the agricultural cooperative movement in England. It is controlled by the affiliated societies working through a democratic Board of Governors”

No religious or political questions were to be introduced at any meeting of the Society. Though these aims and objectives were later refined and elaborated, in spirit they remained the same.

The main duties of representatives of the society were to spread the word about cooperative practice, both by delivering addresses to agricultural associations and meetings around the country and Hugh did his part in this, mainly around Yorkshire. They also produced many pamphlets, one of which was Hugh’s pamphlet on the purchase of cake. He probably also wrote others on transport schemes and party line telephone systems.

Besides propaganda, personally and in print the AOS was advisory to the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries and to government in general. AOS came to be the source of information on the widest possible range of agricultural topics, from allotment cooperatives, banking, insurance, pig rearing to egg collecting, trading and packing of produce.

The main example of an agricultural cooperative in 1901 in the first annual report was the Brandsby Agricultural Trading Association (BATA), which had been affiliated to the AOS from 13 November 1900, i.e. almost before its inception. Hugh reported from BATA that the half yearly balance sheet at 31/7/1901 showed a turnover of £1,531 with profit for the 6 months was reported as £70.

BATA remained a frequent example in AOS annual reports and attracted many visitors, particularly around the time or the introduction of a heavy goods transport service to the North Eastern Railway line. [See Rail Transport page] There was a full report on the Brandsby Motor Service in the 1904 annual report. Robert Yerburgh MP had attended the luncheon held at Brandsby to inaugurate the service.

In 1906 the AOS reported that it now had 142 affiliated cooperative societies, an estimated membership of 9,000 with a total turnover of £350,000. To ease the continuation of business outside of official meetings, a standing committee to deal with all ongoing matters, this consisted of Hugh Fairfax-Cholmeley and two others, with the President and Vice-president as ex-officio members. That year the matter of cooperative banks for agriculture was tackled, joint working with the Cooperative Union was established, and the Board of Agriculture report on small-holdings was presented to both Houses of Parliament. The AOS was briefed by government with the responsibility of promoting agricultural cooperation.

In 1907 a Small Holdings and Allotments Act was passed, which had taken up much of AOS business during the past winter. The AOS Journal was established as a monthly publication, Hugh being on the executive committee. AOS called for government funding to support smallholdings and cooperation and from 1908 the Board of Agriculture made AOS a yearly grant of £1,200 per year. In 1909 the total number of cooperative societies had grown to 321 of which 19 were in Yorkshire. This year was the largest increase in numbers they had ever had. The Development and Road Improvements Funds Act of 1909 was welcomed. AOS extended its activities into the promotion of scientific research to aid rural industries, and the development of marketing. Steps were taken to promote and teach forestry.

Hugh got a “Party line” telephone system installed at Brandsby, a pilot scheme set up with the Postmaster General. though not owned by BATA, the association reported to the AOS on how useful it was, the manager saying they “used it several times a day”. Getting in touch with markets, they could now get the best prices and make contracts over the phone. Once the Brandsby scheme had been deemed a success, the Postmaster General opened the scheme to new requests. By 1910, the party line telephone scheme was promoted widely by AOS, with the Brandsby scheme as the model. In that year BATA was noted as being the most active trading society in the North.

In 1911, Hugh was once again vice-president, the total number of societies had risen to 428 with 200 being small holding and allotment societies. Visits to Brandsby continued, the annual report for that year including a photograph of a visit to Brandsby by the Ripponden and District Farmers Association.

The AOS was drawn on for advice by county councils, small holding and education committees. Advice to politicians could be requested, but government policy was more often formed by AOS members active lobbying of politicians. The voice of the AOS could be heard in the policies of Lloyd George, particularly when he made his great land reform speech, The Shadow on the Land, of 1913. Speaking on the subject of the absorption of small farms by large estates, landowner objections to small holdings and the cottage famine, Lloyd George opened the great Liberal Land campaign:
“You have got to free the land that is to this very hour shackled with the chains of feudalism.” LG

Richard Winfrey, a great promoter of smallholdings, coined the slogan of “three acres and a cow” which caught the public imagination in support of smallholdings and allotments.

The British League for the taxation of Land Value was also formed. Records show that the AOS produced a plethora of leaflets on the Land Tax issue. Land Tax came into force in Lloyd George’s budget of 1909/10, but continued to be hard to implement and its purposes not well understood.

In 1910 AOS reported on an alliance made with Agricultural Department of the University of Reading, to analyse soils, manures, feeding stuffs and so on, at reduced prices and to give supplementary information. It also gained the association of colleges in Newcastle on Tyne, University College Wales and Bangor. The journal had entered its 6th year of operation. In the same year BATA was reported as still being one of the largest agricultural cooperative societies with a turnover of £22,526 in 1912.

War Time

In 1915 the annual report declared that the agricultural operative movement had been checked by the onset of the war; the uncertainty of prices and dislocation of trade made for hesitancy in new enterprises. In war circumstances, AOS main aims were, to supply HM Forces, to exercise a check on rising prices and to focus on industries turning waste or surplus into useful products.

The difficulties which the agricultural community faced were noted, particularly the shortage of labour which was now acute, and the dislocation of transport services. Besides providing for HM Forces, associations were urged to ensure continued supply for the civil population and to avoid speculative buying.

Development industries needed to include the production of chip and willow baskets for fruit and vegetables, these had formerly been imported from the Baltic. Transport delays meant the non-delivery of seeds on time, but cooperative members were better placed than individuals in goods transport matters. Sugar Beet was now a new important industry to be encouraged. Cooperative societies helped to stabilise prices and AOS formed a joint committee with the Cooperative Association to work to this end.

By 1915 the distinction between smallholdings and allotments had become blurred and there was a new focus on allotment gardens for town workers. These provided a resource in times of unemployment and were seen as important for health in getting workers out of the mine or the factory.

A new BATA scheme for marketing members’ wool, properly classified and graded, had been introduced and had run for two years. A considerable saving had been made in the cost of handling wool; the cost to the society had been ½ d a pound. 1915 also reported on the setting up of cooperative cow and pig insurance and the setting up of pig clubs.

Also in 1915, Mr Tadadsu Ishiguro, Secretary to the Imperial Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce in Japan, was on a visit to the UK studying cooperative methods. He visited BATA at Brandsby and was particularly interested in the wool scheme. Though the immediate influence of British examples to is hard to trace, following the second World War, agricultural cooperatives became government policy in Japan as a price regulatory mechanism. Agricultural cooperation in Japan still dominates the sector today.

The Last Year

In 1923, the annual report states that the government grant had ended in March of that year, but that whilst paid, it had enabled rapid expansion. The total turnover of affiliated societies had gone from £1,331,000 in 1911, to £11,179,422 in 1922. The tone of this report was one of giving credit to the government for having supported agricultural reform through the organisation, but at the same time the society issued cautiously worded warning about the future.

Firstly the report claims that the apathy which had existed in agriculture at the society’s beginnings had abated, and the market now had a desire to aid farmers. In addition, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Ministry of Health had played a role in improvements, with three lots of legislation currently underway. In August 1922, the Allotments Act had gained Royal Assent, a landmark day for AOS.

However, unease was reported that retail food prices were unduly inflated and an element of profiteering and wastefulness in distribution, existed. AOS appeared to be directly addressing government with this warning. Similarly, it warned that agricultural prosperity was essential for the nation, that cooperation remained the key factor in this and called for it to be supported by government funds. It also warned that milk production was the single area most in need of expansion.

On the BATA front, it was noted that the Brandsby BATA had survived when other societies, particularly dairy ones, had gone to the wall during the hard years of 1920-21.

The original objectives and nature of the society were restated in a more robust form and it was noted that the society now depended entirely on voluntary support. However, further annual reports cannot be found and neither is there further reference to it in the papers of Hugh Fairfax-Cholmeley. It would appear that the AOS ceased to operate in an independent form.


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