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Rhys Jones

Agriculture was the most important industry in Ceredigion until tourism became as important towards the end of the 20th century. In 1900, nearly 40% of the population of Cardiganshire was employed in agriculture compared with 12% for the whole of Wales.


Many farms in Cardiganshire were mixed - that is, they kept animals and grew crops. As a result many of the farms over 30-35 acres were self-sufficient. During the 19th century farms became more specialised: those in the hills of the north and east concentrated on sheep and cattle rearing; those in the valleys of the south became dairy farms but most continued to grow some grain.

1800 - 1890

There were many factors that changed farming practice during the 19th and early 20th century: enclosure of common land, new equipment, stock breeding, new crops (such as turnips) and new varieties of existing crops; changes in the relationship between land owners and tenants; new markets and competition with other markets (transported by faster ships and railways); new fertilizers; new methods of farming (such as crop rotation); changes in the relative value of farm products (for example when corn prices dropped, more farmers produced livestock); improvements in veterinary practice. Some of the improvements were introduced by Thomas Johnes of Hafod and other forward-thinking estate owners who encouraged their tenants to do likewise.

The weather deteriorated from about 1875 causing agricultural depression and an increase in prices, particularly those of grain.

Quite large numbers of people emigrated to the South Wales valleys, to London and to America, Australia and elsewhere. The population of Ceredigion reached a peak of 73,000 in 1871 after which it declined until 1951 by which time it had dropped to 53,000. The loss of farm labour in this way was offset by more efficient farming methods and equipment.

20th century

During the 20th century, the number of farmers (rather than farm workers) halved and by the end of the century, some of these were part-time. The total numbers of people working on farms in Cardiganshire in 1900 was between 10,000 and 11,000; in 1995 there were only about 3,000

Bateman, D.I., 'Cardiganshire Agriculture in the 20th century: an economic perspective', Cardiganshire County History, III, 122

The various changes can be broken down into the following periods:


This was the period of greatest change when mechanisation began to affect the efficiency of production and the relationships between the farmers and farm workers. During the First World War farmers were encouraged to produce more for home consumption. During this period, too, the enormous estates began to sell off their land and farmers became more independent. In 1903 Cardiganshire had more Farmers' Co-operatives which had a greater turnover than any other county in Britain.

The first six Welsh National Agricultural Shows were held in Aberystwyth (1904-1909)


Herbicides and insecticides introduced; falling farm prices

A Chair of Agricultural Economics was established at Aberystwyth University in 1924; The Welsh Plant Breeding station was established at Aberystwyth University in 1919 and moved to Gogerddan in 1953.

The Milk Marketing Board was established in 1933. It guaranteed the price of milk to all producers (about 12d per gallon in 1934) leading to an increase in dairy cattle in the south of the county.


Increase in food production was encouraged by the government through the County War Agricultural Executive Committees.


The Welsh headquarters of the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service was established at Trawscoed after the Second World War.

Milking machines, bulk collection of milk, milk quotas (1984)

Government policies maintained higher farm incomes set during the war. These lasted until 1955 and were accompanied by falling production costs.

Government and European Commission policies gave much support to hill farmers leading to a five-fold increase in sheep numbers in the county after 1973.

During the 20th century, there was a decline in the production of cereal and root crops and greater specialisation in livestock production especially dairy cows, other cattle and sheep. Land was lost to forestry and fewer people were employed on farms (a 70% drop between 1911 and 1991)

By the end of the century, Aberystwyth and its environs was home to IGER, ADAS, the Forestry Commission, the Meat and Livestock Commission, one of the farmers' unions, the Welsh Agricultural Organisation Society, the Welsh Agricultural College and an agricultural department in the College.

Bateman, D.I., 'Cardiganshire Agriculture in the 20th century: an economic perspective', Cardiganshire County History, III, 113-134

At the end of the 20th century there were lots of issues that related to farming including Prairie farming, factory farming, intensive rearing, genetically modified crops; E.C. regulations; foot and mouth; salmonella; BSG; animal welfare; fox hunting, the right to roam and diversification; and the place farms had to play in the environment, conservation, history and tourism.

Most of the tools and equipment in Ceredigion Museum's collections are similar to those found elsewhere in Britain. The names of these items vary from place to place.