Farming lives in print

Thirty-Five harvests is one of those books that many of us would have liked to have written, but few us have the necessary skill or endeavour.

What is more, the author just happens to be one of the foremost commentators of the modern agricultural age. Love him or loathe him, there has been no getting away from Oliver Walston for the past 35 years.

Having spent the 1960s working as a publisher in New York, Walston returned to his south Cambridgeshire roots in 1974 to work on, and then manage, the family farm at Thriplow.

At the end of every year he would write an annual report to be sent out to staff, friends and family.

By 2009 he had 35 which, in their entirety, made for a story that many of us recognise. It is a story of specialisation and mechanisation.

The beef, the dairy and the sheep were closed down in the 1970s and 1980s, the kit got larger and the staff of 50 was reduced to just two.

For a farmer such as myself, scratching a living at the poorer end of East Anglia, it makes for an interesting aide memoir. The drought of 76; the grain mountains of 84; the burning ban of 91; not to mention the wheat varieties and the never ending politics; all things we vaguely recollect, but sometimes struggle to put the exact year to.

What is also of note is how the unique Walston literary style develops over the years. Initially, the reports are rather functionary – the first is called 1974. By 1990 the Walston pen is getting into gear, the title is Good harvest, awful future and we are starting to get plenty of comment to go with the hard facts. By 2007 we still get the stats, but now OW clearly thinks he has become farming’s answer to Oscar Wilde and we are given a crafted vignette entitled The odour of sanctity.

I asked the great man how he would sum up this serial of his cereal years and he replied: “Hard paw cornography.” Need I say more?

  • This book is only available online, priced £20, at


Snowdown Sphepherd is a celebration of Welsh farming life, portraying four seasons on the hill farms of North Wales.

Richly illustrated with colour pastel and charcoal drawings, this is a new edition of Keith Bowen’s book, first published in 1991.

Published by Gomer Press, it’s priced £16.99.

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