Opinion: I’m sick of being patronised by armchair experts

Man gazing into crystal ball

© Ewing Galloway\UIG/Rex Shutterstock

I’m not in the best of moods at the moment.

All those lovely green and even June crops have morphed into scrappy, drought-stressed fields, with weeds poking through despite the enormous agrochemical bills.

And then the taxman dropped me a line or two suggesting that I owed him quite a bit more than I budgeted for.

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

True, my budget was done in the time-honoured way – the side of a Jammy Dodger packet – but I had sort of based my cashflow forecast on it.

I can add to the long list of pre-harvest jobs (find combine, service combine, and buy dust masks) the more worrying email-bank-manager-and-see-if-the-overdraft-envelope-can-be-pushed-even-more.

But there’s little more that can be done for this harvest – the gates are shut on almost everything, and it’s all down to the Good Lord from now on.

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And working on the principle that “next year, I’ll get it right” (the title of my yet-to-be-started book), I start optimistically pondering next year’s plans.

The last thing I need as I look for advice from the armchair farming experts is to be treated like an idiot.

For a start, they would have us believe that they are clairvoyant. Their ability to judge future gross margins is astonishing.

I never fail to wonder at the precision (not to be confused with accuracy) with which they predict the money we will make from a certain crop.

The oilseed rape that I’m still planning to sow this August (or September depending on which expert I listen to) will be entered into the long sales pool at Hampshire Grain, and the last cheque from that pool will stumble into our account at the end of September 2017.

That’s a long way off. A lot can, and will, happen.

I don’t do individual gross margins. I grow a range of crops to suit my ground, acreage and workload, and then, at the end of the year, there’s a lump of income and a lump of inputs, and one gets taken away from the other. I forget which way round it is – I was an ag engineer at Newcastle, you see. 

The second hackle-raiser is the granny-sucking-eggs husbandry advice.

It can be summed up like this: The way to grow successful wheat is to choose the best variety, and sow it in good conditions into a firm and fine seed-bed at the best time of year. Make sure you use the best techniques to control slugs, and then apply herbicides in good time.

For the rest of the year, source the best-value fertiliser and agrochemicals you can, and make sure you apply them at the optimum time.

And then, to finish off, harvest your crop at the peak time, making sure your combine harvester is set up properly.

And, finally, make sure you sell your crop at the top of the market.

Like, duh, as young people say.

The assumption seems to be that there are ranks of farmers, settling down in a seminar at Cereals, or browsing the websites of the well-known land agents, and having a massive revelation.

“So that’s where we’ve been going wrong. We’ve been deliberately sowing the wrong variety in the wrong field, and applying incorrect fertiliser at the worst time of year…etc., etc..”

Cue a mass outbreak of forehead slapping.

So, come on you experts. Don’t patronise us. We’re not that daft. Not even us Newcastle ag engineers.

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