Agricultural Statistics

From Modern Ireland: Its Vital Questions, Secret Societies, and Government, 1868

By 'An Ulsterman'

The value of the statistics annually compiled by the Registrar-General of Ireland might be considerably increased if they were extended so as to cover the agricultural classes as well as the live stock and the land. The public would then have certain facts on which an opinion concerning the condition of the country might be safely built; and we should be spared many theories and many mischievous mistakes. As it is, there are many important subjects ignored. The consequence is that partial views and one-sided theories are broached, and for a time become fashionable, which never would have appeared to mislead minds under a better planned system of registration. For instance, the statement that labourers receive higher wages than in former years may be paraded as a reason why they should be regarded as contented with their lot; they, on the other hand, may find that the prices of provisions and other necessaries have risen in an equal ratio with their pay. Agricultural statistics, which give with commendable minuteness, copious details about the soil, the crops, and the live stock, and which only allude to human beings when incidentally recording the number of emigrants, must be pronounced imperfect. The defect is in the scheme laid down for the collection of the information; it does not result from any inherent difficulty in obtaining it.

The Registrar-General states that, with scarcely an exception, the particulars given in the returns have been readily afforded to the enumerators by the various stockowners and occupiers of land in a manner highly creditable to their good feeling and intelligence. With this disposition of the people on the one hand, and the service of 4,000 efficient enumerators, selected from the constabulary and metropolitan police, on the other, Mr. Donnelly might confidently make a few additional enquiries, and thus render his returns more satisfactory. There need be nothing omitted of what is given. But unless we have a scale of the value of rent, labour, provisions, &c., the recorded value of live stock is of little service when we desire to apply it to determine the condition of the people. Besides, the values of stock, instead of being calculated from the fairs and markets of each year, are estimated according to the rates assumed by the Census Commissioners of 1841, and cannot therefore be relied upon as affording a close approximate amount, nor even furnishing a proper means of contrasting one year with another. Even if, for convenience sake, the present system of computation of value be retained, the actual average prices obtained for live stock at the great annual fairs should certainly be subjoined.

There is another matter of importance omitted. In these General Abstracts we are not told how much of the live stock is due to imports—yet it is known that sheep, young and Spanish cattle have been imported. It will easily be seen, therefore, how difficult it ought to be to make sweeping conclusions from the statistical summaries.

Taking them, however, as they stand, we find that from the year 1859 to the year 1867, inclusive, there has been a steady annual decrease in the number of horses. Not only is the latter year inferior in that respect to the year which preceded it, but it stands lower than any year for which figures are given. In 1855 the number of horses was computed to be 556,287. It rose steadily until 1859, when it was 629,075; and from that year it began as steadily to decline, until in 1866 it fell to 535,799, and in 1867 to 532,348. In this respect, therefore, Ireland is poorer than she was nine years ago by 106,727 horses, or by more than one-fifth the whole number. Taking the rates assumed by the Census Commissioners and adopted by the Registrar-General, this represents a loss in money value of £853,816. To say, as has been said, that the decrease of the last-named year, as contrasted with the year previous, is due to a sudden demand for Irish horses, sounds plausible at first; but it becomes ridiculous when the steady annual decline of eight consecutive years is considered.

Of cattle, the number given for 1859 is 3,815,598. Then followed for four years an annual decrease, and for the three years after a yearly increase, which, however, only raised the number in 1866 to 3,746,157; whilst in 1867 it has diminished by 43,779, and stands at 3,702,378. Thus, Ireland in this year has fewer cattle than she had nine years ago by 113,220, which represents in money value a diminution of £735,930.

Pigs in 1859 numbered 1,265,751, being a decrease on the preceding year. During the eight succeeding years their number has fluctuated. In three of them it rose above, but in five it sank below, the figures given. The number of the year 1867 is 1,233,893, and shows a decrease on previous year of 263,381, or in money value of £329,227, and in 1859 of 31,858, which in money value would be £39,822. In horses, cattle, and pigs, there has therefore been a diminution not only as compared with the year before, but as compared with 1859.

In the number of sheep only has there been an increase. In 1859 there were computed to be 3,592,804 sheep in Ireland; in 1867 there are 4,826,015. But during five out of the eight years succeeding the first date they were considerably fewer than in that year. In 1865, 1866, and 1867 only, have they exceeded it, and the last year surpasses it by 1,233,209 sheep, represented in money value by 1,233,209 sheep, represented in money value by £1,356,533.

Taking the years 1859 and 1867, we can therefore extract from the official figures the following contrast between the money-values of the several items:—

Year Horses Cattle Pigs Sheep Total Value
1859 £5,032,600
£24,801,387 £1,582,188 £3,952,084 £35,368,259
1867 £4,178,784 £24,065,457 £1,542,366 £5,308,617 £35,095,224

Thus the year 1867, which is inferior to 1866 by £114,491, is below 1859 in the value of live stock by £273,035 or more than a quarter of a million. It is inferior in horses, in cattle, and in pigs. These are the animals whose presence would indicate a healthy condition of agriculture; and their decrease, conjoined with so large an increase of sheep, is not a hopeful symptom. Indeed, if it were not for the augmentation of the latter item, the contrast between the two years would be very dark, for the difference would then be to the extent of over a million and a half against the year 1867.

In the extent of land under crops there is a decrease when we compare 1867 with 1866. Barley, turnips, meadow, and clover, cover an extended area, showing an increase of 95,952 acres; but flax and other green crops and cereals diminished by 157,575 acres; and thus there is a net decrease of 61,623 acres in the area under crops of all kinds. This is not a symptom of prosperous management, especially when we have to add to it the fact that "bog and waste unoccupied" has increased by 13,176 acres.

Taking the cereals, the relative proportion of land under crops in the latter and the former year is stated as follows:—

1866 Acres. 1867 Acres. Increase Acres. Decrease Acres.
Wheat 299,190 261,908 37,082
Oats 1,699,695 1,659,412 40,283
Barley 150,293 170,704 20,411
Bere and Rye 10,021 9,606 415
Beans and Pease 14,834 13,507 1,327

Thus the total area of land under cereal crops in 1866 amounted to 2,174,033 acres, whilst in 1867 it only reached 2,115,137, showing a net decrease of 58,896 acres. Comparing the last five years we find that wheat has fallen back almost to the same position as it occupied in 1863, whilst the cultivation of oats has been steadily decreasing year by year. Five years ago there were 1,953,883 acres under oats; in 1867 there are 294,471 acres less. Barley, though it is the sole crop which exhibits an increase over the previous year, only does so because that was an exceptional season; it stands in 1867 below what it was five years ago, and what it was in 1864 and 1865. In bere and rye there has been a trifling increase over the first two years of the five. But no season has yet shown so small an acreage under beans and pease.

In green crops, turnips take the position that barley does with respect to the cereals; that is, the crop is the only one which shows an increase, and this is only an increase over an exceptional season. The following abstract shows the area under the several crops for 1866 and 1867:—
1866. Acres. 1867. Acres. Increase. Acres. Decrease. Acres.
Potatos 1,050,353 1,001,545 48,808
Turnips 317,198 335,711 18,513
Mangold Wurtzel & Beetroot 20,162 18,805 1,357
Cabbage 36,531 24,021 12,510
Carrots, Parsnips, and other green crops 26,738 25,471 1,267
Vetches and Rape 30,623 26,699 3,924

Thus, the total area of land under green crops in Ireland in 1866 was 1,481,605 acres, whilst in 1867 it has sunk to 1,432,253, being a decrease of 49,353 acres. Add to this a decrease of 10,403 in flax; and we shall have flax, cereals, and green crops showing a net decrease of 118,651 acres. Meadow and clover have increased by 57,038; and thus there remains a total decrease of land under crops in 1867 as compared with 1866, of 61,623 acres. Considering the great increase of sheep it was to be expected that the area of grass should increase, which it has done to the extent of 52,838 acres. Fallow has likewise increased by 772 acres, whilst woods and plantations have diminished by 5,153 acres. It will be easily seen, however, that the decrease of land under crops has not been counterbalanced by the increase of grassland; and in 1867, as often before, a portion of the soil of Ireland has lapsed into a condition of "bog and waste unoccupied."