DAVID RICHARDSON

10 August 2001




DAVID RICHARDSON

Dismal circumstances

at every corner greet

this seasons harvest,

accompanied by public

ignorance and petty

official obstructiveness

p, which was fit and dry and ready to come. Then there was a scattering of ears across all fields that were still a week to 10 days short of ripeness. I suspect they were almost blind tillers until one or other of the heavy rains we had during the summer revived them. Fortunately those ears were virtually the same moisture as the main crop. And then there were the tramlines, either side of which were plants that were still green, caused by the wide wheels we were forced to leave on the sprayer later than usual this year because of the wet spring.

We opted for majority ripeness in deciding when to begin and so there are green grains in otherwise dry samples. Which means they are not pretty and will not win the malting barley contest. But fan sucker-blowers on perforated towers are keeping the heaps aired and sweet. So, perhaps its not too serious. Indeed I am more concerned at the low yields. I had hoped light, easy draining land might score this year. Not in this area. And although prices have come off last years bottom they are still too low to leave a margin with such light crops.

Friends further south tell me they are already well into wheat and that yields are better than feared. Here in Norfolk most are several days away. Then we can look forward to a really testing time for men, machines and tempers. A combine dealer told me recently he expected some of his best spares business this year would be for rear stub axles. He was convinced several would be twisted off in deep ruts left by sprayers and fertiliser spreaders. Thats when "combine rage" will reach its height.

Meanwhile, I have already been the victim of road rage while leading our combine from one field to another. I was driving the escort car in front of the machine, all lights flashing according to regulations, when, among other more reasonable traffic, I met a Mondeo coming too fast in the opposite direction. I leaned out of the window, frantically waved the young driver to slow down. When he didnt I eased the car towards the centre of the road to emphasise the danger. I got a mouthful of abuse in spite of trying to tell him a combine was just behind me. He didnt listen. Instead he appeared to be preparing to jump out and thump me. Until the rather large combine bore down on him, that is, when he thought better of it and drove his car up a bank out of the way.

I have had several similar experiences. All of them here in the middle of Norfolk where it might be assumed there would be at least a little knowledge of and sympathy for farming. Not any more, it seems.

At least we have avoided the fate of a friend near here. He manages two farms about 40 miles apart which both use the same combine. Being an upright and law-abiding chap he went by the book and asked police permission to drive his combine, accompanied by an escort vehicle, between the two. The majority of the journey could be travelled on A-roads. To his amazement permission was refused.

The abnormal loads officer told him the public could not be subjected to such inconvenience and that if he wished to move the combine he would have to employ, and of course pay, a haulier with a low-loader. The combine would not be any narrower, of course, but the lorry would be a few mph faster and this would not annoy other road users quite so much.

We must assume the officer was only interpreting instructions from seniors. We must assume he was not doing it out of spite. We must also recognise such developments as more evidence of our declining economic importance and the low esteem in which food production is now held. On one hand we are forced by economic necessity and government edict to get bigger. On the other, society erects petty barriers to our success at every turn. Who loves us? Who feels they need us? Who cares? Not Margaret Beckett – shes away on her holiday for five week

THERE has seldom been a harvest I have anticipated with less pDavleasure in 40 years of farming. Appalling weather, low prices and inevitable losses have hardly excited my optimism. As I write, we are still waiting for fine weather to let us finish the last few acres of winter barley.

We had the usual teething problems with the combine, in spite of the professional service supposed to prevent such frustrations. They are, of course, more than just frustrating, they are expensive. They undermine efficiency and stop harvesting while moisture levels are low, risking a change in the weather and unwanted drying costs. But some problems cannot be foreseen. As our old combine driver used to say "They dont break down when you arent using them."

The other frustration was variable ripening. Most of our winter barleys had two, if not three stages of growth. There was the main crop; ears buckled over almost ready to snap, which was fit and dry and ready to come. Then there was a scattering of ears across all fields that were still a week to 10 days short of ripeness. I suspect they were almost blind tillers until one or other of the heavy rains we had during the summer revived them. Fortunately those ears were virtually the same moisture as the main crop. And then there were the tramlines, either side of which were plants that were still green, caused by the wide wheels we were forced to leave on the sprayer later than usual this year because of the wet spring.

We opted for majority ripeness in deciding when to begin and so there are green grains in otherwise dry samples. Which means they are not pretty and will not win the malting barley contest. But fan sucker-blowers on perforated towers are keeping the heaps aired and sweet. So, perhaps its not too serious. Indeed I am more concerned at the low yields. I had hoped light, easy draining land might score this year. Not in this area. And although prices have come off last years bottom they are still too low to leave a margin with such light crops.

Friends further south tell me they are already well into wheat and that yields are better than feared. Here in Norfolk most are several days away. Then we can look forward to a really testing time for men, machines and tempers. A combine dealer told me recently he expected some of his best spares business this year would be for rear stub axles. He was convinced several would be twisted off in deep ruts left by sprayers and fertiliser spreaders. Thats when "combine rage" will reach its height.

Meanwhile, I have already been the victim of road rage while leading our combine from one field to another. I was driving the escort car in front of the machine, all lights flashing according to regulations, when, among other more reasonable traffic, I met a Mondeo coming too fast in the opposite direction. I leaned out of the window, frantically waved the young driver to slow down. When he didnt I eased the car towards the centre of the road to emphasise the danger. I got a mouthful of abuse in spite of trying to tell him a combine was just behind me. He didnt listen. Instead he appeared to be preparing to jump out and thump me. Until the rather large combine bore down on him, that is, when he thought better of it and drove his car up a bank out of the way.

I have had several similar experiences. All of them here in the middle of Norfolk where it might be assumed there would be at least a little knowledge of and sympathy for farming. Not any more, it seems.

At least we have avoided the fate of a friend near here. He manages two farms about 40 miles apart which both use the same combine. Being an upright and law-abiding chap he went by the book and asked police permission to drive his combine, accompanied by an escort vehicle, between the two. The majority of the journey could be travelled on A-roads. To his amazement permission was refused.

The abnormal loads officer told him the public could not be subjected to such inconvenience and that if he wished to move the combine he would have to employ, and of course pay, a haulier with a low-loader. The combine would not be any narrower, of course, but the lorry would be a few mph faster and this would not annoy other road users quite so much.

We must assume the officer was only interpreting instructions from seniors. We must assume he was not doing it out of spite. We must also recognise such developments as more evidence of our declining economic importance and the low esteem in which food production is now held. On one hand we are forced by economic necessity and government edict to get bigger. On the other, society erects petty barriers to our success at every turn. Who loves us? Who feels they need us? Who cares? Not Margaret Beckett – shes away on her holiday for five week


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