Opinion: Remembering harvests past – for all the wrong reasons

Another harvest is in the shed. I’ve noticed lately that remembering previous harvests becomes a bit of a blur, but if I can recollect them, then it’s usually for the disasters rather than the triumphs.

Let’s start with the infamous drought year of 1976, when, as a schoolboy, I witnessed father’s attempt to turn the grain dryer into a grain wetter because he was fed up with selling 10% moisture wheat to merchants.

His plan to add 5% of water (worth £70/t), ended in a small pond in the drier discharge pit.

See also: View the latest entries for our Harvest 2021 photo competition

About the author

Guy Smith
Farmers Weekly Opinion writer
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

Then there was 1984, when the junior arsonists of Clacton rather derailed our harvest plans by torching our main combine when parked up overnight in a very nice crop of 4t/acre Norman wheat.

And in 1990, disaster was narrowly averted when I spotted a passed-out gentleman lying in the headland of some early ripened Pipkin barley.

I suspected he had probably overindulged after watching England’s sickening exit from the World Cup in Italy that year.

In 1997, I really put the spanner in the works late one night in a thick crop of Apex rapeseed by trying to combine an irrigator standpipe.

And then there was 2000, which I remember as “the tow-rope harvest”, when we repeatedly had to pull the combine out of wet holes in a disastrously soggy summer.

This was followed by 2001 when, combining some very poor-yielding Fanfare barley, the radio news was full of the Twin Towers disaster in New York.

Then there was 2005 when, in a field of Einstein wheat, I failed to live up to the name of the variety by backing the combine into father’s brand-new Ford Ranger truck. Or 2012, when while harvesting some Wizard winter beans the combine wheel fell into some subterranean petrol tanks my grandfather had buried as a wizard idea during the Second World War.

(This was probably because the fuel was off ration rather than as preparation for a Nazi invasion.)

Another droughty year was 2018, when combining a crop of truly appalling Mascara peas felt more like “getting rid of the evidence” than actual harvesting.

And, finally, this year, which I will probably remember for three events conspiring to leave me facing an eye-watering £10,000 default on an early delivery contract of Crusoe – namely a broken dryer, the unexpected arrival of a late July monsoon in north-east Essex, and a supercharged rally in the wheat price, taking it £35/t above what I had originally sold at.

Mercifully, Master Farm Services of Bures came to my rescue, hiring me a batch dryer which meant the contract was met.

If I add up all my harvest memories, I’ve probably got enough material for one episode of Clarkson’s Farm.

Furthermore, it probably says something that, while some men recollect their lives by reference to the girlfriends/wives/mistresses they had at the time, I tend to recollect mine by reference to the wheat varieties I was growing.

So, I hope you had a memorable 2021 harvest for all the right reasons, and here’s hoping harvest 2022 will be one I remember for its triumphs, not its disasters, even if I should heed Kipling’s words by “treating both imposters just the same”.

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