New year brings new colours and smells

20-year-old Michael Neaverson is heading into his third year as an undergraduate Crop Science student at the University of Nottingham. Michael is from a farming family in South Lincolnshire and is involved in all aspects of the 600-acre business – wheat, barley, sugar beet, cress seed and marrowfats.

It’s a very scary thought that I’m now five-sixths of the way through my course. It’s an even scarier prospect that exams start just a few days after this is published, which reminds me that I should probably do a bit more revision for them. Okay, I lie. Maybe I should really start revising for them.

To be fair, I have had a few distractions. The festive season is always a strange time in the student calendar; most people head back home for a few days and though it’s really nice to see the family, you inevitably end up pressure-washing tractors or loading lorries when ideally you should be making notes. It also means you get reacclimatised to such luxuries as heating and this makes returning to a freezing student house quite a shock.

Getting home in the first place took a little longer for me than it did for most other people, partly because I stopped off in Melton Mowbray for a week making sausage rolls and selling Stilton in a deli, and secondly because – unbeknown to me – the door lock had been changed in my absence and I spent a good five minutes trying to work out why I couldn’t get into the house.

The only other major change during my time away was that the workshop has changed colour: it’s one of those galvanised buildings that kind of looks like something from another planet has landed in the middle of the farmyard, and thankfully it has now been coated in more primer than the HMS Belfast and painted in the universally standard colour of “shed green”.

Next to the workshop stands the remnants of the 2011 sugar beet crop – a reasonable-sized clamp given the size of field it came off. Most people have taken serious heed of last year, when a huge acreage was lost to the cold weather in December, and have got their beet lifted as early as was reasonably possible. Still, a little over £23 a tonne seems poor compensation for a crop with such high overheads and we look forward to the return of a more sensible price in 2012.

If all farming years are odd, 2011 must surely have been a particularly strange one. Wheat varied by over £60/t and the balance of rain in the country seemed to have been particularly split. Here in the East, our field drains barely managed to dribble out more than a few pints over the entire year, whilst in the North things have been very much the opposite. Commodity prices may have been extremely variable, but as a consequence of the spring drought, our crop yields were a great deal more so.

Talking of odd things, there was a terrible smell lingering in the office the other morning. This normally only happens when the dog has consumed some particularly potent leftovers the night before, but on this occasion the party in question was my brother, who has recently started brewing his own beer. So much pressure had built up in the fermentation barrel that the tap gave way a little and the carpet merrily consumed about five pints of very yeasty and very smelly beer overnight. All I can say is thank God for carpet shampoo.

Away from the office, we’ve acquired a new weather station and it’s proving quite a mystery. It’s one of those fancy ones that measures pretty much everything apart from how cold Russell Brand’s marriage has been recently and, unfortunately for us, it came devoid of any kind of instruction manual. This wouldn’t normally be a problem because I’m a bloke and probably wouldn’t read it anyway, but such is the illogical nature of the device that after five minutes of playing around with it, I’ve somehow set an alarm that farts uncontrollably whenever the temperature exceeds 8 degrees and I have no idea how to cancel it.I’ll leave that problem to Mum and Dad because I’m heading off to NIAB TAG in Cambridge for a few days to attend a course about presentation techniques for agricultural sciences – I’ll let you know how it goes.

Read more of Michael’s columns on our dedicated page.


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