The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Minette Batters has paid tribute to the ‘key role’ of those who worked to feed the country during World War I.

It comes as the world marks the centenary of the war’s end today (November 11) at 11:00am.

More than 170,000 farmers fought in the trenches and up to half a million farm horses were requisitioned by the War Office to help at the front line.

Faced by a lack of labour, those who remained on the farm had to adapt the way they worked to meet the great challenges of meeting the country’s food production needs.

A total of 98,000 women from the Women’s Land Army worked on farms to fill the void left by men. A further 66,000 soldiers returned from the frontline to help with the harvest.

An industrial revolution

Crucially, tractors began to do the work of many hands. In 1917, the Government bought 400 British Saunderson Tractors and a further $3.2 million was invested in US models such as the Fordson.

By 1918, there were 6,000 tractors in operation in Britain. The ‘Ploughing Up’ campaign of 1917 saw an extra 2.5 million acres of land used for growing cereals.

By the end of the war, an extra 915,000t of oats, 1.7 million tonnes of potatoes and 830,000t of wheat were grown. And thanks to the work of British farmers and growers, the country avoided being starved into submission.

The NFU also remembered the more than 250,000 farmers who joined the army and fought on the front line – many of whom never returned to their land.

Around 66,000 soldiers, who, for various reasons, weren’t fighting, as well as 12,000 members of the Women’s Land Army, tended the land throughout the four years of the conflict.

This effort was seen as hugely significant in light of the sustained attempts by the German navy – especially its submarines – to sink British import shipping, with the stated purpose of starving Britain out of the war.

Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare never had the desired effect, however – thanks in no small part to Britain’s farmers and food producers.

As the nation remembers those who fought and died on the front line, the NFU wanted to pay its tribute, however small, to the people who gave so much during a time of bitter conflict.

Speaking of those farmers and producers who kept the population fed, NFU president Minette Batters said: “We also pay tribute to the people who helped produce food to sustain the nation – a key supporting role during the ongoing crisis.

“The sacrifices made during the Great War are still felt around the world today, and we join everyone in remembering the people who fought for our country both on and off the front line,” she added.