College Calendar: Lizzie Jennings finds herself chasing the time

A person can feel they’re constantly trying to chase the minute-hand on their watch.

That’s been the sort of month I’ve had thanks to a series of deadlines to reach (or miss).

But I see it on a different scale with farmers trying to do several urgent jobs in the same short time to make the most of a patch of fine weather.

When most people would see the sun out and think “lovely day for relaxing”, a farmer tends to think the exact opposite. A lovely day is one to cram as much work into as possible.

However, when a date is set for fresh forage collection co-ordinated across several colleges, rain or shine can’t get in the way. A few of us have volunteered labour for a grassland trial run by the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX). Though I’m sure it’ll be an interesting experience and we’ll have learnt something, this process has also been a lesson in “look before you leap”. Tramping round fields in the pouring rain, struggling in the wind with bags to waterproof the data sheets… these things are always more time consuming and difficult than previously supposed.

Thanks to this and many other experiences, I can say I’ve learnt that you seldom get returns without hard graft and often very little return for hard graft. While accepting these facts I’m also learning farming is about constantly striving to find good returns for as little slog and bother and expense as possible.

That philosophy was the basis of our last mechanisation assignment, weighing up the pros and cons of two different tractor/plough combinations and a farm visit to compare two Case tractors. One was the straight-forward ‘grunt’ type which I’m most comfortable with, where everything is common sense and mechanical. The other was the swish sort that has buttons everywhere and does most of the thinking and work for you (as long as you’ve programmed it right). One of the many tricks it could perform was to do several different operations at every headland all at the press of one button.

When deciding to study agriculture I had not grasped the scope of it as a subject, let alone career. One minute we’re looking at the government’s Food 2030 strategy and discussing the world economy and the next we’re looking at cow dung or some of the latest progressions in technology. Why isn’t the industry attracting more people when there’s something to suit almost any interest? Possibly it’s all down to the promotion of it as an option.

I’ve also sent out 800 survey leaflets to Yorkshire farmers for my major project on new entrants to farming in the region. The worst part was preparing all the envelopes for post and then receiving a grand total of seven after the first five days. The best part was sifting through the remaining batch of 105 when they came and finding messages of good luck and advice.

Most of the people who left messages saw a bright future for agriculture and felt it was a going to be a good time for new entrants. A couple, however, advised I should forget it. Reasons given were high input prices and the struggles of people already in the industry.

I mentioned our planned study tour to the Czech Republic last month, but unfortunately it’s been cancelled. I’m gutted. Still, the year is rushing by and I’m sure students will be chasing that watch hand more than ever over the coming weeks. Then hopefully we’ll be in for the “barbeque summer” promised last year. For farmers, barbeque summer can, of course, be translated to “good harvest weather”.