French ‘buggre-tout’ scuppers tractor-buying plans

I wish I were a proper farmer. Then my milling wheat would go for milling, my malting barley for malting and my beans for human consumption. Then I wouldn’t get shouted at by my bank (one of the ones who enjoyed a multi-billion bailout a few years ago). And I’d also be able to buy myself a new tractor.

Proper farmers buy new tractors using their extensive knowledge of their likely profit/loss figures for two years hence, and therefore instinctively utilise their tax allowances by popping out and buying a new tractor.

No-hopers like me tend to decide that their tractors are due for replacement after a long spring watching unfathomable warning lights on the dashboard. We then spend tea-time with an old envelope and a calculator, knocking up some hopelessly optimistic harvest forecasts, and then head for the brochure box. Although this year, thanks to the marvels of, I’ve done all my research online.

But after hours of research and comparison, I decided that ‘the same again’ is what’s in order. After all, it works in the Jolly Flowerpots.

So I rang the local dealer for my favourite make, told him what I wanted: six-cylinder, about 130hp (it has to be approximate because tractors these days come with about a dozen power ratings, so I choose a figure and hope it’s in there somewhere). Being a fully paid-up member of the Campaign for Plain Engineering, I even suggested a slightly more lo-tech version which might be what I’m after, if the price were right – and sat back and waited. Sure enough, the quotes came back, and very keen they were too.

Next step was to clear the kitchen table, stock up on Hobnobs, put new batteries in the calculator, summon the dealer and prepare my best haggling voice.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out like that. He had bad news about my choices of tractors: they had sold out. Gone. Not a single one in the country. Apparently, all the proper farmers had placed their orders to ensure maximum tax efficiency months and months ago. Right, I said. When will they be building a few more? They’re not, was the slightly astonishing news. All those nice under-stressed six-cylinder models have been discontinued. Oh, I said, that’s a shame. Any particular reason? Ah, it’s all down to emissions. (Once upon a time it was impossible to buy anything from anyone because ‘it’s all going to China’ – nowadays, it’s all down to ’emissions’.) It seems that they are all swapping over to the new ‘Adblue’ systems – perfect for, er, um, stopping Global Warming or Cooling or Weirding or whatever it is this week.

But he did have good news. A replacement model was one the way. Fabulous, I cried. Will it be here for harvest? No, he sheepishly replied. Autumn drilling? No. But deliveries should start by Christmas.

The French factory, it turns out, shuts down while, one can only, presume the staff don berets, put onions round their necks, light a Gauloise, climb on a bike and faire buggre-tout for the whole summer.

I don’t know if I can wait nine months. I suppose the warning lights might have stopped flashing by then. I might have actually grown milling wheat and malting barley. I might be in a position to shout at the bank. Nah, don’t be daft, that’s just wishful thinking. I don’t think I’ll ever make a proper farmer.

Charlie Flindt is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha at Hinton Ampner, in Hampshire.

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