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Your Farm has a War Job

Farming during the Second World War was a tremendous responsibility. Britain required food products from Canada in greater quantities than ever before. During peace time production, though necessary, was not as essential as it was during the war. Canadian farmers were given a task of great importance in supplying Britain in addition to feeding their fellow citizens.

James G. Gardiner, the Minister of Agriculture, recognized the value of all Canadian farmers when he said, “The Dominion Government must take the lead in advising farmers what is needed and all government bodies must provide ways and means of aiding in production programmes.”

The United States Secretary of Agriculture Claude Wickard, in a speech delivered to American farmers, reiterated some of Gardiner's points when he said "food will win the war and write the peace." Wickard went on to emphasize that men and women required more food and better quality food if they were to work longer hours in war factories. Soldiers, sailors and airmen needed to be adequately fed to fight and defeat the enemy. Wickard explained that "food will write the peace" because representatives of nations possessing large reserves of food supplies and great capacities for production will be listened to with rapt attention at peace conferences by delegates from nations whose people have gone hungry or have starved during the wear years. Thus, Canadian agriculture had a vital role to play in the Second World War. The existence of the food industry was a potent factor in the peace treaty deliberations.

Canadian farmers were asked to organize their operations in such a way so as to produce specific commodities in larger amounts. At the same time, they were asked not to increase the output of other products in which surplus stocks exist, or which may not be needed for directly winning the war.


During the first year of the war Canada contracted to ship 5,600,000 pounds weekly or about 291 million pounds for the year. This was exceeded. For the second year Canada agreed to ship 426 million pounds although the present contract was for 600 million pounds. By the end of May Canada had shipped, or had in storage, 411 million pounds of bacon. This left 189 million pounds to be secured in the remaining 18 weeks of the contract year to reach the 600 million mark.


During the year dated April 1, 1940 to March 31, 1941, Canada was contracted to ship 78.4 million pounds of cheese and actually shipped 92.3 million pounds. The next year the contract was raised to 112 million pounds and was again exceeded.


Good Canadian bacon is just a little tastier if a tiny portion of egg is available to go with it. Canadian eggs were shipped to Britain in continually increasing quantities during the war years. Exports of eggs from Canada were as follows: 1.27 million dozen in 1939, 10.98 million dozen in 1940, 16.3 million dozen in 1941 and 45 million dozen in 1942.


The Government of Canada had asked for an increase of 1,000,000 sheep by the end of 1943. Imports of wool from New Zealand and Australia were off due to the war in the Far East. The handling and merchandising of wool was controlled by a Government agency. Attractive guaranteed prices have been set to encourage increased production of this badly needed commodity.


Canada shipped very little beef to Britain. The Minister of Agriculture, however, urged that beef production maintain consistent levels and, if possible, be increased. Continued shipments of cattle to the United States enabled the United States to ship other food products to Britain.

Flax and Barley

Flax is the source of linseed oil which is used in a wide variety of industrial products. It was heavily relied upon as a substitute for vegetable oils typically imported from the Orient. The United States agreed to divert land from corn production to oil seed production if Canada supplied them with barley. Canadian farmers were asked to increase flax acreage by 200% and barley acreage by 50%; the actual increase was 70% for flax and 20% for barley.


Wheat and flour vastly exceeded the total quantity of all other food products Canada sent to Britain. A decrease in wheat production had been requested, however, because of the large surplus stocks in the country following the heavy crops of 1939 and 1940. During this time Canada's wheat supply was more than adequate for domestic use and British requirements. Fewer acres in wheat production meant that more land was available for flax and feed crops.


James Gardiner, Minister of Agriculture, requested a 25 percent increase in certain vegetable crops. At the same time he had requested that vegetables be grown on farms by experienced urban gardeners. Because of the necessity for conserving seed, and owing to the shortage of metals for garden tools, the Department of Agriculture preferred to see amateur gardeners buy their vegetables rather than try to grow them.

Saving Shipping Space

The British Food Ministry requested as much food as possible in the smallest possible shipping containers. Every one of the 45 million dozen eggs Canada contracted to send to Britain went in dried form. This method reduced shipping space by about 75 percent. Evaporating and powdering milk retained all of the nutritional content all but reduced the shipping volume.

The farmers’ Role

The farmers’ role in the Second World War was far more intricate than that played by farmers during The Great War because of the variety of farm products required. Farmers asked that prices be assured for their products which represented payment for their efforts comparable with that of other industries serving Canada's war machine. They asked that they be informed as early as possible of different products so that plenty of time will be available for planning accordingly. They asked that a consistent and convincing story be told by Government authorities of the relative urgency of various farm commodities.

Farm gallery

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