There’s something subtly different about this harvest – and as I write, we’ve only done two days. It’s hard to say exactly what it is that’s changed, but it feels rather nice.
Is it the fact that the little patch of winter barley seems to have regained its place in the rotation? For a start it thrashed properly (worth the two-men-with-broom-handles wrestle with the de-awning plates) and then gave a reasonable yield of corn and a veritable tower block of golden small bales – baled by a good neighbour and all stacked indoors, four hours before the deluge. Perhaps it’s the early foray into the Clare, which ripened unexpected early, and, on the heavy ground, was choking the combine.
It might be down to the combine itself, just starting its second season, and (not before time) now showing signs of shedding its appalling electrical gremlins – the sort of problems that make a range Rover Mk II look like the best-built car in the world.
Then again, it’s always nice to have the rent review done and dusted before harvest starts, with the absolute minimum of fuss. It’s nice to know that we can forget multi-month negotiations featuring Cirencester’s finest demanding projected gross margins on second wheats for the next three years. The best rent reviews are done with an envelope (for writing on the back of), a calculator (to press in a businesslike way in an attempt to look professional) and a couple of packets of Jammie Dodgers (for eating).
Perhaps it’s the cricket joyfully blasting out of the still-slightly-wrongly wired-in radio – luckily LW is in mono, so it matters not that I still can’t get stereo.
No, it’s none of these. The warm smiley feeling comes from something far bigger; even bigger than my obsession with quality hi-fi. It’s very big, but very simple. I look down from the cab and see stuff tumbling across the knife and into the auger. That stuff is in demand – all of it. The grain that’s trickling against the little window behind my head, and the straw dropping into arrow-straight lines from the back of the combine – it seems that, at last, some is willing to pay a decent price for it all. And talk has changed from what I’ve been forced to listen to for the whole of my farming career – “evil farmers… grain mountains… subsidy soaked… paid not to produce” – to a quite different tone: “food security… grain shortage… nice farmers.”
Of course, there’s every chance that England will revert to the old ways, reintroduce the spectacular collapse, and end up drawing 2-2. It’s highly likely that the combine radio will start spontaneously broadcasting Radio Uzbekistan at volume 10 while all the warning lights and buzzers go off, trying to tell me that non-existent parts of the combine have broken down. And I’ve got a nasty feeling that summer is done and dusted, and we’re in for six weeks of low pressure sweeping in from the Atlantic. In fact, based on the fact that we had 4.5 inches of rain in the week after my “drought is good” opinion piece, I think I should say that six weeks of rain is what we need.
And what if this piece of reverse meteorological psychology fails to work and we really do get another six weeks of rain and a ruined harvest? Well, we farmers, and the stuff we produce, might be more popular still. Come on rain: do your worst.
Charlie Flindt is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha at Hinton Ampner, in Hampshire.