Opinion: Pub talk – good for yields and good for the soul

It’s the little pleasures that truly enrich an unlocked life. One such pleasure was a return to the pub, albeit just the beer garden, after four long months of abstinence.

A cool pint of Adnams in mid-April with a couple of old drinking mates felt like the end of prohibition in 1920s America.

As we sat round a picnic table, the al fresco temperature of an English spring evening did start to chill the bones, but I firmly declined the offer of a blanket over my knees. 

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About the author

Guy SmithGuy Smith
Opinion columnist, Farmers Weekly

Guy Smith comes from a mixed family farm on the north-east Essex coast, which is officially recognised as the driest farm in the UK.  He has held the position of deputy president at the NFU and served on the boards of FACE, HGCA and Landskills New Entrants Committee.

Read more articles by Guy Smith

Even if there are mitigating circumstances, once you’ve succumbed to blankets at the boozer, you know your wheelchair years aren’t far away.

Of course, for the farmer, the return to the pub is about far more than refreshment. Where would we be, as a profession, without that vital aspect of knowledge transfer commonly known as “pub yields”? 

Yield is king in farming discourse – and it always has been.

Thomas Tusser, a Tudor farmer from Essex, wrote 600 years ago in his famous Five hundreth pointes of good husbandrie: “’Tis merry in hall, where beards wag all, to see if corn yields alike.

“Poor husbandrie braggeth to go with the best, but good husbandrie baggeth gold in the chest.”

It’s nice to know that, for time immemorial, there’s always been a bit of “my haywain is fuller than yours” banter in farming circles.

Although we may also recognise the old farming maxim “yield is vanity, profit is sanity”, yield remains that which distinguishes farming prowess from shameful underachievement.

But I’ve noticed in amongst the pub-yield chat that other metrics are starting to creep in.

Selling price has become another key boast as the pints begin to flow.

As markets become more volatile, when you sell is becoming as important as what your yields are.

As farmers gather around the bar, exaggerated claims of wheat sold at £200/t can easily be out-trumped by hoots of derision as others claim that £220-plus/t has been more recently achieved.

One is reminded here of the tale of the male sheep farmer in a social gathering who claimed, after a third pint, that all his lambs had gone for more than £100 a head, to which his wife soberly added: “Yes, but it’s a pity there was only three of them.”

One wonders what new boasts might start to creep into farming pub banter?

If carbon becomes a key determinant as to how farming is to be rewarded in the future, then are we soon to be found talking up our levels of soil organic matter as we sup from the cup?

I can hear it now: “My organic matter has trebled since we bought our new drill,” claims an ale-quaffing Farmer Giles.

“That’s nothing,” retorts a flushed Farmer Brown. “After two years of our secret cover crop mix, we can now bag up our soil to sell in local garden centres as super-enriched potting compost.”

Then there will be “robot envy”.

“My field-walking robot zaps weeds and texts me crop reports,” claims Farmer Jones, as he tries to catch the barmaid’s eye to order another round.

“Oh, my robot does all that… and then serves behind the bar in the evenings,” crows Farmer Smith in reply.

So it’s three cheers for the return to the pub – good for barley prices and good for the soul. 

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