It’s odd. We’re only a fraction through a shocker of a harvest, and, even worse, the football season is about to start. But somehow, despite these twin horrors, I still feel reasonably cheerful. Why?
Perhaps it’s because of grain prices. It’s not just us suffering dismal yields – it’s the USA, Russia and, once again, Ukraine. I remember decades ago being told that there’s no point being an arable farmer; just wait – when Ukraine gets its act together, we’ll all be out of business. I’m still waiting. Nothing suggests better times for us arable farmers than a simple shortage of what we produce.
Then there’s the fact that my combine, after two fraught seasons, seems to be behaving itself. It has taken a shockingly long time for New Holland and the local dealer to iron out some terrible “teething” problems – I started to form the opinion that we small-scale tenant farmers and our little TC5070 combines didn’t seem to matter much to agribusiness CNH, but I now finally seem to have a machine that’s a joy to use.
I was delighted to find that, after all these years, I am still useless at predicting yields. I walked back the full length of Blackhouse Road field to pick up my truck, rubbing out ears of Claire. By the time I climbed into my trusty Terracan, I was enveloped in doom. Visions of 20cwt/acre filled my head. But it actually yielded a reasonable 3t/acre – a bit of a result this season, even if most of it looks like chicken corn.
This weather has also allowed me to point out to non-farmers in the Jolly Flowerpots that this year is what subsidies were designed for; a non-weather-dependent source of income that cushions the blow of, for many, a wiped-out harvest, meaning that slightly fewer of us should go bust, and minimising the ensuing disruption to the fundamental-food-producing industry.
There seems to have been an unusual and welcome silence from the organic sector this year. How have they got on? We conventional farmers have been ladling on the fungicide to combat the wet, cold conditions, but our wheat crops have still suffered yield collapses and nasty ear diseases. Usually the organic boys are quick out of the blocks to suggest how much safer their wheat is compared to our “chemical-drenched” product; how have they managed this season without fungicides?
Then there was pride in my son doing his first day’s corn-cart. He’s a bit late to the idea – he’s 17 – but he seemed to enjoy it. Perhaps the day seemed a little long and a bit lonely, but he could listen to his iPod and text his friends while waiting for the combine to fill up.
Coincidentally, the next day he went off to a three-day physics summer school in London. A kind neighbour picked him up at 7.15 every morning and showed him the weird and scary world of city commuting. He seemed to enjoy that, too, especially the vast range of cafés and restaurants. Unlike his father, he has a cultured and inquisitive palate.
One comment he made was a standout for me. “I saw about a million people today,” he reported after the first day. “And they all looked as if they wanted to die.” And if those words don’t make a farmer cheerful, nothing will. Oh, and the fact England has dropped Kevin Pietersen.
Charlie Flindt is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha at Hinton Ampner, in Hampshire.