AT A time when the UK was still in the grip of food rationing, moves were afoot in the New Forest to ensure crop growth potentials were recognised.

Modern day farming has no doubt been shaped by the projects undertaken at Efford Experimental Horticultural Station which was located on the south-western fringe of the New Forest.

The Daily Echo was invited to the site in July 1953, when the centre was in its infancy, to take a peek at the groundbreaking work being carried out.

The experiments led to breakthroughs including the virus-resisting brassicas, disease free strains of strawberries, improved tomatoes, cucumbers, apples and bush fruits – all of which were hoped to have been common place by the mid 1960s.

The station was nearly built elsewhere.

The Ministry of Agriculture planned to set up their centre at Brownwich Farm, Near Titchfield – but it was thought there would eventually be an oil refinery nearby – and so another site had to be found.

The change presented serious difficulties as the station had to be on soil of a certain type and near to the sea.

Efford was a chain of five such centres, each at a location chosen with great care so the whole chain covered a comprehensive range of conditions of soil and climate.

While Efford was not ideal in every way, it fit into the overall picture of horticultural research.

Hard work was put in to drain some of the land, but there were also stream-side meadows which were not suitable for farming.

About 170 acres of the farm were developed for horticultural experiments and the remainder was run for beef and pig production – a facility adjunct to the main scheme.

As the work was long-term, it was deemed necessary to install extensive drainage, reference, build roads, install water supplies and reclaim woodland. Part of the farm is very old, with records showing two of the fields being used in 1350 to help provide the mayors of Lymington with their day-to-day expenses.

Other similar stations may have been more highly specialised in their activities, but none more comprehensive than Efford in its scope.

Fruit, vegetables and glasshouse cultivation were all covered – but potential was there to shift into a greater variety of experiments.

A Daily Echo report read: “The impressions I gained were of orderliness and a workmanlike approach to a well-conceived programme of research. A large area of the farm has been divided into areas

of 8-10 acres, each served by a roadway and each sub-divided into experimental plots.

“On the north side, experiments in top fruit cultivation are going well ahead on land that had, if the work was to stand up to the tests of time, to be drained.

South of the Lymington-Christchurch road is the area of intensive cropping, with its Dutch lights, and further south are vegetables growing in conditions of stable fertility – the fertility being maintained by a crop rotation in grass leys.

“Grown under conditions both natural and artificial, plants are watched and checked and eventually are preserved only as statistics on paper or as a line on a wall graph.

“On the southern side of the farm, exposed to the prevailing SW wind, small plots have been used for the cultivation of brassicas, each plot being sheltered in a different way – some with wire netting, others with shelters of straw bales. The protective screen is arranged along the sides of a square and inside the “box” are growing healthy broccoli plants which are exposed to infection from unhealthy plants growing outside the “box”.

“Work under glass had been under way only a little over two months. Even so, the progress of research into propagation and cultivation pitfalls affecting tomatoes, cucumbers and marrows has been very satisfactory.”

With the area’s prominence in strawberry growing, it was only logical that the little red fruit would garner some attention.

“In other parts of the station, strawberry variety tests are in full swing,” continued the report. In time, parties of horticulturists were given the same opportunity the Echo had – by seeing first hand what was being done at Efford. The centre remained open for more than 50 years, closing down in April 2004. Devon-based garden centre firm Otter Nurseries bought the site in 2005 and still run a branch on site.