Opinion: The drugs don’t work (on our crops)

Every year, as harvest finishes, neighbour Robert and I adjourn to the Jolly Flowerpots to play “Name the Harvest”.

Some are easy: the Drought (1976), the Bounteous (1984), the Blossom Midge (1993), the Wet one (1960, 1992, 2012 plus many others.)

It’s early to decided what this harvest will be, but I think I’ve got the perfect suggestion: the Verve harvest.

My reasoning is very simple.

The Verve were a popular beat combo of a few years ago, and they had a huge hit with The Drugs Don’t Work.

And this year, the drugs – in the form of agrochemicals – haven’t worked.

See also: Opinion: Agriculture at historic fork in road

Massive dose of glyphosate last autumn on stubbles? Couch still thriving.

Intensive regime of pre- and post-emergence wild oat and blackgrass herbicides? Fields laced with wild oats and blackgrass.

The spring barley is run through with cleavers, the charlock is making a dramatic comeback in the spring beans… you get the idea.

What’s going on? I went through a stage of thinking it was my fault – something I wasn’t doing right.

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

Is it my water supply? No – we’re on a mains supply shared by many farmers.

Could it be my sprayer or its nozzles? Surely not – it’s almost brand new, and it went through a rigorous inspection recently.

What about the operator? No way – I’ll have you know I sat my first exam for 34 years to get my new spraying certificate, and it was bloomin’ hard work, but I passed with flying colours. Pressures, speed, application rate – all fine.

I can’t blame the agronomist, or the chemical buying group, or the fastidious contractor who has popped over at busy times to ensure better timeliness of application. It’s a mystery – as well as immensely frustrating. It feels like throwing a bucket of water on half a fire.

It was comforting, therefore, to drive a thousand miles in a fortnight for two rare trips out of the parish, and realise that, no, it’s not just me and my patch of Hampshire.

The countryside between here and Durham, and here and Oswestry, exhibited the very same iffy weed control that I’ve got here.

It was quite a shock to see how many have taken to the glyphosate technique of blackgrass control, with huge fields turned into the world’s oddest and largest green and gold chessboards.

Reading the assorted agronomy reports in Farmers Weekly confirms it is happening everywhere. The nation’s agronomists report “poor” weed control from all four corners of the country.

This is all very well, but at the end of the month, I – and thousands of other farmers – will be sitting down to settle up for all these apparently half-functioning chemicals.

Perhaps The Verve will be a little modern for Neighbour Robert, so, if we’re keeping the musical theme, I might suggest a line from a Jilted John song – “It’s not fair” – to reflect how I feel Charlie Flindt

Large cheques will be in the post as the last bills of the arable year are sorted out. There doesn’t seem to be any comeback for agrochemicals that don’t work.

They seem unique in that respect. Cars, shoes and gadgets can all be returned if dodgy.

If your £350 bottle of herbicide does the square root of bugger all – that’s tough.

Perhaps The Verve will be a little modern for Neighbour Robert, so, if we’re keeping the musical theme, I might suggest a line from a Jilted John song – “It’s not fair” – to reflect how I feel.

Even that might not be of his era, so perhaps the most suitable name would come from way back in 1969.

Perhaps we’ll refer to this as the Fleetwood Mac harvest. Lots of money spent for little return and all we can do is shrug our shoulders.

Suddenly the title of their most famous song seems particularly fitting. Oh Well.

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