Farming Heritage in Bury St Edmunds

07 June 2023 - Jack Deal

We are delighted to announce the opening of our new office in Bury St Edmunds.

You can find us in the Long Barn, at Fornham Business Court, on the north side of Bury St Edmunds. Fornham Business Court is a development of heritage farm buildings, set in beautiful farm surroundings, strategically located beside the A14. The new office is the next step in our journey as we grow our team and client base in the west of our region.

To mark the opening of our new Bury St Edmunds office, Jack Deal, Business Advisory Partner celebrates the rich history of agriculture in the area.

Readers will be familiar with Bury St Edmunds’ modern agricultural landscape. Local farmers grow significant volumes of sugar beet, onions, and potatoes, alongside wheat, barley and rapeseed. The town has grown rapidly in recent years, with large new housing and commercial developments providing land sale opportunities to landowners. The area remains relatively unsaturated and has seen small numbers of farm diversifications, including event venues, farm shops and café/restaurants, overnight accommodation, storage and renewables.

There is plenty of evidence of agricultural activity in Bury St Edmunds in prehistoric times, and during the Roman occupation of Britain agricultural practices expanded with the cultivation of wheat, barley, oats and vegetables, along with raising cattle, sheep and pigs. After the Romans departed, 5th century Anglo-Saxon settlers continued to cultivate crops and raise livestock, and this history is celebrated at the Anglo-Saxon Museum at West Stow.

By the medieval period Bury St Edmunds was a thriving market town and traditional markets are still held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, along with regular farmers markets in the town centre. The Benedictine Abbey owned vast areas of local land which were largely occupied by tenant farmers. This period re-shaped the agricultural landscape, with the introduction of the three-field system and the origins of crop rotations.

Bury St Edmunds faced serious challenges during the 16th and 17th centuries. The dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII in the 1530’s led to the dismantling of the abbey and the redistribution of its lands. The enclosures movement started in the early 1600’s, meant that much common land was privatised, resulting in smaller plots of land for individual farmers and that, added to the upheavals of the Civil War, resulted in meagre returns for many local tenant farmers.

The Industrial Revolution totally changed the outlook for heavily farmed areas such as Bury St Edmunds. The introduction of new farming equipment, such as the seed drill and improved ploughs, increased agricultural efficiency and productivity. Increased mechanisation in the 19th century meant crop rotation methods were further refined, leading to higher crop yields.

This period also saw the development of local agricultural societies and institutions that promoted innovation and knowledge sharing among farmers. Bury St Edmunds has strong links with both the Suffolk Agricultural Association and South Suffolk Agricultural Association, and our new Bury St Edmunds office is just a short drive from the South Suffolk Showground at Ampton.

The advances in mechanisation and industrial development added to the wealth and success of Bury St Edmunds and its surrounding environs. Steam-powered engines and machinery revolutionised farming practices, increasing efficiencies and making them less labour-intensive. Farmers adopted machinery like reapers, threshers, binders and steam engines, transforming the agricultural landscape and increasing productivity.

It’s interesting to draw parallels to modern farming practices here. Whilst the machinery used today is unrecognisable from the 19th century, it still requires human skills to operate it, although with the advent of advanced Artificial Intelligence, farmers are now adapting to machinery that requires less and less human intervention.

Today’s Bury St Edmunds is home to many third or fourth generation farmers and it was during the 20th century, within periods of great agricultural, economic and social change, that their grandparents and great grandparents first took ownership of their farms. This family heritage plays an important role in the mind set of local farmers, many of whom are proud custodians of their land with emotional as well as economic ties to the area. Land is relatively hard to acquire locally, and this, along with the availability of rollover money, is reflected in the prices paid in recent transactions.

The 20th century saw widespread adoption of technically advanced machinery and modern farming practices, and the widespread use of fertilisers, pesticides, and hybrid seeds. It is interesting to reflect on how these practices were embraced and celebrated in previous generations and compare this to the current emergence of regenerative farming and a move away from soil disruption and certain intensive farming techniques. Agriculture as an industry has always had to consider the impact of contemporary farming practices on future generations, but is now doing so with the environment and climate crises in mind.

Back in Bury St Edmunds, the late 20th century saw the growth of the local poultry industry and the area is now home to many broiler sheds and poultry operations. Drive around the countryside and you will also still see many active pig operations, despite the hit the industry has taken in the last 12-18 months with high feed prices and issues with labour availability.

The farmland around the town remains within one of the driest areas of the UK, requiring many landowners to instal irrigation on their land. This has allowed the cultivation of high value crops such as onions and potatoes, and local farmers are regular suppliers to large supermarket and restaurant chains across the UK.

Bury St Edmunds has famously been home to a sugar processing plant since 1924 and the iconic sugar silos, built in 1972, make it one the largest of its kind in Europe. Suffolk is also home to one of the UK’s largest maltings, and sugar beet and barley are a mainstay of local farm rotations as a result.

Today, agriculture in Bury St Edmunds remains an essential part of the local economy and a vibrant element of the region’s character. Local farmers continue to diversify the range of crops and activities, and there are numerous examples of high-quality rural enterprises. Bury St Edmunds is a town with agriculture and a country lifestyle at its heart, and we are delighted to open our office to further establish ourselves within the agricultural community of the region.

The Scrutton Bland Bury St Edmunds office is located in the The Long Barn, Fornham Business Park, Fornham Business Court, The Drift, Fornham St Martin, Bury St Edmunds, IP31 1SL. To get in touch with a member of the team please call 01284 412690

The Bury St Edmunds team will be holding an office launch later in the month and anyone interested in attending should reach out to the Scrutton Bland events team by emailing

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