WRITING THIS page two weeks in advance makes topical comment impossible. So the Editor suggested that I should reflect on the past 12 months and summarise some of the thrills and spills of farming pigs and arable crops in the East Midlands.

Having lived and worked through the past 364 days that have made up the year 2004, I am not so sure that I want to resurrect them. I will resist the temptation of cataloguing the negative side of the past year but I can’t remember too much that was positive either.

The future of British agriculture appears to be hanging in the balance with one of the biggest changes of the past 50 years about to be foisted upon it. Although there must be optimists out there, I have yet to become infected.

Last month our agronomist gave me a recommendation that did not include the use of pesticides but, none-the-less, if not acted upon quickly would result in crop failure. “Control the rabbits by whatever means or pack up farming,” was his stark advice.

His remarks were directed at Sacrewell Lodge but we also have problems at Easton Lodge too. Gassing rabbits is an expensive option since cyanide is no longer available. A quotation from a pest control agency for more than 1000 for treating a small area with phosphine was prohibitably expensive.

The syndicate who have the shooting rights at Sacrewell have shot more than 350 rabbits since harvest. But the grazing on wheats sown this autumn shows that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Getting anyone interested in ferreting or lamping by night is hard work so, in some desperation, we have invested in 30 Janus rabbit baited cage traps made by Colin Kerr and his family near Braintree, Essex.

They come highly recommended by a neighbour who has used them for a year or two. Baited with carrots the cages are sited 5m from the hedge or boundary and 10m apart. In the first four weeks we caught 132 rabbits or just under an average of five per day.

Graham Johnson, our farm manager trainee uses an air pistol to dispatch the detainees rather than the chop from the right hand which could otherwise be suffering from repetitive strain injury by now.

It takes between an hour and one-and-a-half hours each morning to go round the cages on the quad bike with the biggest chore being the chopping of the carrots into tasty finger-sized morsels.

Tractor training

With an eye to the future and with the help of the Rutland Training Group organiser Jacqui Griffin, we arranged for two would-be young tractor drivers to receive a day’s instruction from Tony Bowler who is no stranger to farmers weekly farms.

Of course, farms are a wonderful environment in which to bring up children. But they can be full of hidden dangers and tractors and machinery in daily reach offer a great temptation for young adventurers.

Our son Josh has been brought up on the farm and at nearly 15 is eager to drive tractors and vehicles that he sees on a daily basis working on the farm. We would like him to have the opportunity to help out and to earn a little pocket money but this must be within the law and only after professional instruction.

Anybody can jump into a vehicle be it tractor, ATV, or truck and drive it around a field or farm track and most parents can provide the help and advice to do this safely. However, adults take so much for granted and our tutees always know more than the parent/tutor, or so they think.

Far better therefore to go to the professional. Mr Bowler started with a talk about health and safety and then took Josh and school friend Tom Hudson through the elementary maintenance procedure of our Ford 6610 and Ford 7740 tractors.

Eventually, they progressed to the driving seat and once proficient practised hooking onto a trailer for towing both forward and reverse. Four wheeled trailers are kept for advanced classes.

Coupling up to equipment with three point linkage and pto shafts came next and finally, as the light was failing, he rounded off the day with a video showing simulated accidents and what happens when things go badly wrong.

Finally, we wish all our readers a happy and prosperous new year.