This short account is an attempt to answer the question, “what happened to Farming Press?” It is accompanied by a database of book and video publications. Although the emphasis is on the books and videos department, this was a relatively minor part of the company which essentially was a magazine publisher.
The organisation started in 1929 when the English Guernsey Cattle Society decided to launch a new magazine to promote its breed’s interests. Their first editor was BA Steward, a farmer and milk recorder from East Anglia. Steward named the magazine The Dairy Farmer and ensured that it represented all aspects of dairy farmers’ interests. It had offices in London and Ipswich.
In 1935 the society decided to dispose of the magazine and accepted Steward’s offer of £150 for it. By the second world war Dairy Farmer was being wholly run from Ipswich.
In 1949 Dairy Farmer Ltd published its first book, Making Money from Cows by Kenneth Russell. This was followed in 1950 and 1952 by the Dairy Farmer’s and Pig Farmer’s Veterinary Books by Norman Barron.
Pig farming sections had been included in Dairy Farmer magazine from 1936 onwards, leading in 1953 to the launch of Pig Farming as an independent magazine.
In 1959 Steward sold his company to Bradbury Agnew, publishers of Punch and The Countryman. In 1962 the agricultural group was renamed Farming Press and new books began to bear that imprint.
1964 saw the publication of the first of Eddie Straiton’s books, The TV Vet Book for Stock Farmers. He described his approach as follows: “I have tried to stick to essential facts. I have tried to use language which everyone can follow and understand easily, and wherever possible I have used a picture to tell its own story alongside the written words.” Farmers in the UK and overseas quickly accepted the book which by 1986 had sold over 60,000 copies.
The third major magazine from Farming Press – Arable Farming – was launched in 1966.
In February 1969, the Bradbury Agnew group was taken over by United Newspapers Ltd.
In 1971 United Newspapers sanctioned Farming Press’s move to Wharfedale Road on the northern outskirts of Ipswich, the base it was to occupy for nearly thirty years.
Just before the move, the company had decided to put book publishing on a firmer base with the formal creation of a book department. Philip Wood, who had first worked for The Dairy Farmer in 1932, was appointed manager.
Philip chose Ken Dickson Marketing Ltd to represent the books to UK booksellers and Diamond Farm Enterprises to be the sales agency in the United States and Canada. By 1979 over 40 per cent of the department’s sales was coming from North America. The bulk of these orders were for the seven TV Vet books which contributed half the department’s income and were translated into German, French, Italian, Danish, Dutch, Spanish, Hebrew and Portuguese.
In 1979 Philip Wood retired, handing over to Roger Smith.
As sales of the TV Vet books waned the slack was taken up by the Northumbrian cartoonist, versifier and story-teller, Henry Brewis. ‘Funnywayt’mekalivin’, published in 1983, was the first of a succession of popular paperbacks that sold over a quarter of a million copies by 1996.
1983 was to prove to be the high-water mark for Farming Press as a whole. British agriculture, benefiting from the EEC’s policies, had never been as buoyant as it was in the late 1970s and early 80s. High revenues flowed to the group from advertising as well as from other activities such as the National Pig Fair. Managing director Derek Barton maintained tight cost control with the result that in 1983 the group’s turnover of £2.5 million produced £860,000 profit. The principal contributor was still the original magazine, The Dairy Farmer.
However, in March 1984 the EEC applied the brakes, one of their first steps being to enforce milk production quotas. At the same time, in the arable sector there was concern about how Brussels would react to the grain and sugar mountains. Many manufacturers immediately cut back their commitment to agriculture and reduced their advertising budgets.
To make matters worse, the profitability of the Farming Press magazines had been noticed by other publishers. Rival companies launched competitors to both Arable and Pig Farming, while the new weekly, Farming News, made yet another demand on national advertising budgets.
The above-mentioned Farming News was brought closer to the Farming Press Group in 1985 when FP’s owners, United Newspapers, took over Fleet Holdings whose media empire included the Woolwich-based publisher of business-to business magazines, Morgan-Grampian. Among M-G’s portfolio were three agricultural titles: Farming News, Livestock Farming, and What’s New in Farming.
Besides the Ipswich-based titles, United Newspapers already owned the weekly Farmers Guardian which, under the managing editorship of Stuart Seaton, was run successfully as part of the Lancashire Evening Post group in Preston. The acquisition of M-G meant that United Newspapers now controlled the largest group of agricultural magazines in the United Kingdom.
However, it was not until 1990 that this was given formal recognition by the formation of Morgan Grampian Farming Press Ltd in which - as Maurice Foster, managing director of Morgan-Grampian plc, put it - “United Newspapers’ activities in the national farming market are to be co-ordinated by a fully integrated management team with a unified sales strategy”. In autumn 1991 the magazine circulation and accounting functions of Farming Press were centralised to Woolwich, with twelve redundancies at Ipswich and the levying of new central service charges.
Meanwhile, the Ipswich-based books department had been steadily growing, their success depending on Henry Brewis as well as several good new titles by other authors: A Veterinary Book for Dairy Farmers (1985), Organic Farming (1990), A Veterinary Book for Sheep Farmers (1991) and Tractors Since 1889 (1991). These were books that were as attractive to the North American market as they were in the UK.
In 1991 the department commissioned its first video. The producer was to be Peter Melling whose Livestock Videos company made promotional videos for breed societies. Working with champion sheepdog triallist H Glyn Jones and Livestock Farming’s sheepdog correspondent Eric Halsall, Peter filmed Come Bye! and Away!, a programme on the basics of sheepdog training. Peter then offered to sell his recording and editing equipment to Farming Press. In March 1992 he joined the department which was renamed Farming Press Books and Videos. He stayed until 1997.
Within two years videos were contributing a quarter of the department’s revenue, helping it to grow by 40 per cent in 1993-4. Particularly successful was Harnessed to the Plough, a programme featuring Roger and Cheryl Clark with Paul Heiney. Released in 1992 as the first widely available video on how heavy horses were used in farming, it had sold 15,000 copies by the autumn of 1994.
Further growth was encouraged by Miller Freeman (the grouping into which Morgan-Grampian’s business-to business magazines had been incorporated) which – prompted by the parent company, now known as United Business Media - was seeking alternative revenue flows to supplement the decline in paper-based advertising.
However, this development was brought to a halt when United Business Media’s strategy emphasised profits rather than growth.
Derek Barton had continued to manage the Ipswich part of the group until he took early retirement in 1996. In 1997 Miller-Freeman sought to reduce costs in all its divisions. The Ipswich employees were caught up in this process which culminated in further redundancies at the end of the year.
Roger Smith who had managed Farming Press Books and Videos since 1979, left and founded Old Pond Publishing.
There continued to be voluntary losses of staff at Ipswich and finally, in October 1999, Miller-Freeman announced a further nine redundancies and the closure of the Wharfedale Road office.
Dairy Farmer, Arable Farming and Pig Farming magazines were still being published, with journalists and advertising staff working partly from home and partly from a small office in the centre of Ipswich, until that, too, was closed. Other functions were split between Tonbridge and Preston where Farmers Guardian continued to flourish.
A further re-structuring by United Business Media saw the magazines become part of CMP Information.
The books and videos department was eventually moved to Preston where, in April 2002, it ceased trading after fifty-three years of publishing.
In the case of books, all rights now reverted back to their authors under the term of their contracts.
In the case of videos, copyright had always been held by Farming Press. CMP decided to contact the individuals to whom video royalties had been paid – usually the subject experts - and offer them copyright, master tapes and rushes for a small consideration. If the “authors” accepted the offer they were free to assign copyright further or seek a distributor.
The database (below) lists the books and videos published from 1949 to 2002 and where possible gives details of their current availability. Some contact details are also included.
Click here to download (in Microsoft Excel format)
This database lists the books and videos produced by Farming Press or its constituent magazines from 1949 to 2002. We give the date of first publication and what is known of the later history or current status of the title. We give some links at the end of the table.
Queries about this information or requests for further details should be addressed to Old Pond at 5m Publishing: firstname.lastname@example.org phone +44 (0)114 2409930.