What did the BBC do to the Archers. Henley Standard Farming Matters October Column.

Early maize harvest

My wife and I used to be avid listeners to The Archers. That was before they killed off Nigel and the whole thing turned into a radio version of a TV soap. The drama was first broadcast in 1950 as 5 pilot episodes, then as a series starting nationally on New Year’s day 1951. One of the original aims of the programme was to educate farmers following the second world war, when we needed to increase the productivity of home grown food. Remember back then there was still food rationing. Once claimed to be “an everyday story of country folk” where nothing much ever happened, it often mirrored our own lives and seemed to be something we could connect with. Not anymore, now referred to as “a contemporary drama in a rural setting”. The stories, particularly the farming ones, became ever more unbelievable and unrelated to life on the farm as I know it. Don’t get me wrong, farmers suffer from all the same issues as everyone else but in every episode, no thanks. I have occasionally dipped in whilst trundling up and down the field on a tractor, but it is still just the same so I no longer bother. I much prefer my somewhat eclectic taste in music provided by Spotify. The reports in The Henley Standard from various village shows and seeing local man Tim Saint with his giant marrow reminded me of The Archers and the shenanigans that often resulted in the lead up to the village Flower and Produce Show. I am sure nothing like that happens at our local shows! That was about as exciting as it ever got, a real tonic from the depressing news that we are currently bombarded with.

We have smashed another record on the farm. Last month I stated we would be harvesting our forage maize in September. As it happens it was cut and ensiled in the last three days of August. We would normally expect to harvest it in mid September. It just ran out of steam, well moisture actually and started to die back. So, we decided to get it cut before it was completely dead and therefore produce even less fodder than it did. In the end it gave us about a third of our average yield. The lack of rain continued into the first week of September, so we carried on waiting before commencing our field work in preparation for planting next year’s crops. The oilseed rape ideally wants to go in the ground by mid August, otherwise the plants are not large enough to fight off the ravages of hungry pigeons and deer during the winter. Late August into early September is the peak of the flea beetle season and newly emerged rape plants can be completely wiped out by these pests for which there is now very little control. With the cost of crop failure ever more expensive, as we see inputs such as fertiliser increase by hundreds of pounds per tonne, we want to make sure that we use our resources sensibly. We do need to try and produce a profit at the end of the year so that we can invest in the future of the farm, continue to provide safe and healthy food and also look after the countryside. The hysteria kicked up by the main stream media about a rumour that the government is going to abandon its environmental policy due to lobbying by farmers is simply rubbish. We want to provide food and care for the environment but it has to be funded properly.

With rain finally providing some moisture to our parched soils, we have started on cultivations in readiness for planting next year’s crops. Some time has been spent on establishing mixes of grass and wild flowers in areas of low productivity. These will provide habitats for insects and cover and food for various other wild animals.  As we don’t use any insecticides to control pests in our crops this will also help to encourage beneficial insects which will prey on the crop pests. There is a place for food production and environmental gain within modern farming, which I wholeheartedly embrace.

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