1990 - The Modern Farm
Food production in the post-war years has undergone a revolution greater even than the changes wrought in the Victorian era. With colossal investment in the development of machinery, drainage, fertilisers, pest control, feedstuffs and breeding programmes, farming is, more than ever, a science-based business worth billions of pounds to the economy. This is agriculture on a truly industrial scale. Though the nostalgic imagery of food advertising might suggest otherwise, there is little need either for the countryman's traditional skills or for picturesque farm buildings that only worked efficiently when labour was cheap and plentiful. The structures developed for today's agribusinesses - open-sided Dutch barns for fodder and bedding, automated milking parlours, space-age silos, giant storage sheds - share the stark and anonymous character of modern factory buildings. While planning regulations go some way towards controlling their impact on the environment, any attempt at making them visually appealing or even interesting (like the imaginatively painted silos that are such a feature of the French countryside, or the colourful grain elevators of the North American prairies) is usually minimal. How might modern farm buildings be improved?
Agriculture today is highly mechanised, and huge amounts of capital are invested in technology. Where costly, highly specialised equipment is only going to be used for a relatively short period each year - a combine harvester, for instance, or a pea-viner -it may make more economic sense to hire someone to do the job with their own machines. In arable farming, especially, this contracting-out of work has reached such a level that some farms are operated with virtually no permanent labour. Buildings, too, are often conspicuous by their absence, now that a good deal of produce is not actually processed on the farm, but goes instead directly from the fields to the factory or supermarket. In the buildings that do exist the emphasis is on versatility and all-round utility. They are built to do a job - probably several jobs - and are not intended to last forever. The cheapest and therefore the most familiar structures are lightweight steel- or concrete-framed buildings with a cladding of corrugated or profiled wall panels. They can be assembled in a variety of configurations, and readily modified or dismantled in response to changing requirements. While their utility is unquestioned, the visual impact of such buildings is often negative. This could be avoided if more attention were paid to siting - perhaps by tucking them into folds in the landscape. Their exteriors could be treated more imaginatively, particularly by disguising such unsightly clutter as ducts and ventilators. Using traditional materials such as brick or wood helps most buildings blend in better, but they are expensive. As ever, economics rule and there is little incentive for farmers to make their property look attractive. The most pleasing farm buildings tend to be the smaller ones, designed around human labour, but machine-age methods need structures the size of supermarkets. If they are to be a part of the landscape, they need to be as unobtrusive as possible or, alternatively, to be deliberately designed to be noticed.
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