The authorities take an increasingly dim view of drivers being distracted by their mobile phones or by their in-car entertainment while they drive. Indeed, the police now routinely access the phone account details of any drivers involved in an accident to make sure that they were not using their mobiles or on Snapchat at the time.
The police may not be aware of it but in rural areas at this time of year there is an additional category of distracted driver: arable farmers. What is distracting them is not “in-car” but very definitely “out of car” and so irresistible that arable farmers should only ever be chauffeured between March and July. I refer, of course, to every arable farmer’s irresistible urge to rubber neck their neighbours’ crops as they drive past.
Just how dangerous rubber necking one’s neighbouring farmers’ crops can be was brought home to me a few years ago as I was passing a local wheat field in June. I noticed that the entire crop had been flattened by heavy rain. Momentarily arrested by the dramatic sight of 80 acres of lodged wheat I briefly took my eye off the road. In that second or two I sensed a car coming towards me and had to veer on to the verge to avoid a collision with the oncoming vehicle. As it passed I noticed at the wheel the alarmed face of my farming neighbour who had been even more distracted than me by the lodged wheat to the point that he was entirely occupying my lane.
While this dangerous behaviour by arable farmers is prevalent in any year, a season like the one we have just experienced makes us doubly dangerous. Meteorologists tell us that the South East has just endured the driest winter for 20 years followed by a horribly dry spring and this has produced some embarrassingly plain looking crops on my farm. Recent rains have helped a bit but it is clearly already the case that the rain was too little, too late.
So I am desperately on the look out for reassurance that it’s not my fault that I’m in for a poor harvest but that it’s all down to the weather. As I negotiate a bend in the road and a new arable vista opens up before me I’m looking for stunted and thin stands of wheat like my own. As I wait at a roundabout I’m glancing right, not for oncoming traffic, but for a glimpse of a patchy establishment of spring barley that reminds me of home. Everywhere I travel I am desperately seeking confirmation that my arable farming neighbours are in the same boat as me.
So there you have it. You have been warned. Only journey to East Sussex between now and harvest if your trip is absolutely essential. If you do brave a visit be particularly vigilant of other vehicles when passing plain looking arable crops.