Sunday, October 21, 2018

Harvest home

September 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Clodhopper

Straw Rolls

A slow and damp harvest has Clodhopper longing for the past – but yields some surprise results.

Some people need to realise that the first job of farmers is to produce food. Anything else – including looking after the environment – is secondary and less important. And before I receive a flood of complaints, let me explain what I mean.

Farmers care an awful lot about their surroundings – without which they are out of a job. Which means that growers and livestock producers are protectors of the countryside because they need it to produce food in the first place.

Recent comments by Defra secretary Michael Gove that farmers will only receive support payments in return for environmental work after Brexit didn’t go down too well in the farming world. But I don’t believe farmers should be too concerned about what Mr Gove said.

Farmers tend to look after their own surroundings without any hint of payment – whether it comes from Countryside Stewardship or the entry level scheme. And we are using less fertiliser and fewer active ingredients in chemical sprays too.

Grabbed headlines

There is little doubt that Mr Gove made his comments to please his audience – he was after all speaking at an environmental event. He grabbed a few headlines and probably attracted a few votes – I am sure what he said was designed to be a political statement.

I am also sure that Defra and the wider government are just as confused as farmers when it comes to the full implications of leaving the European Union. I just wonder how much grasp Mr Gove has of the farming world – my guess is that he sees Defra as a stepping stone to something bigger.

It has been a wet summer. As I sit here watching the rain drip down the cab window again, I wonder about the past, present and future of farming. The sale of another nearby farm has been described as an ideal opportunity for local farmers to expand their existing acreage. But who can afford it?

Perhaps farmers who have development money. Or a large alternative income or other outside connections? Most land that seems to change hands around here seems to be sold to a rich lifestyle buyer rather than a local farmer.

The average farmer who needs the extra land – or who needs a helping hand – is no longer able to afford those acres. As for the present, I recently saw some old farming pictures from the early 1970s and 1980s. How times have changed.

It still seems impossible to accept that the days have long gone of combine harvesters with 10ft or 12ft headers. Back then, you were doing well when you cut 15 or 25 acres in a day.Trailers would hold 6t each and life never seemed rushed.

Harvest took the best part of a month. Now it can be wrapped up in little more than a week on some farms. People get edgy and nervous if it drags on as it has this summer. Yet with two 35ft combines, it is possible to cut upwards of 200 or 300 acres in a few hours.

The old farmers tested their wheat with a feel of the ear or a crunch of the false teeth. Today, the combines roll into anything below 22% moisture and rely on the dryers to do the rest – no matter how costly that might be.

It is understandable to start at high moistures. With fewer farmers and more acres to cover, I heard one local grower expressing his opinion that it would be foolish to leave a crop to the mercy of the elements when he could dry the stuff. Come late August, he could have lost the lot.


But is harvest today as enjoyable? Or am I looking at the past through rose-tinted spectacles? We used to stop for tea around 5pm for a cooked meal. Then it became a quick sandwich. Now with the younger generation, it is non-stop and eat food on the go.

Nobody has time to live these days. Everything is done in a rush. Maybe I am getting old and grumpy. Or perhaps it is a sign that the future of farming is fast becoming in the hands of the few. Or perhaps it is the slow and damp harvest.

On 9 August this year, we had a month’s rainfall in a single day. The weather has the last laugh but it was still a good harvest in terms of yield. We have averaged 4t/acre so far and the quality hasn’t been too bad. And that’s not pub talk either.

With a bit of luck, we might even turn a small profit. It is about time that fortunes changed in favour of us real farmers and not the hangers on. With so much uncertainty about, there isn’t much incentive to farm at present – but there are lots of advantages in being a farmer.

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