When we sold our old Massey 500 back in 1994, I really hoped we were free of grain and grain merchants for good; cattle were much easier to deal with. But then suddenly, by 2019, with cattle all gone and fodder no longer needed, the alternatives for the land were maize, veg or spuds, grown by contractors.
Although maize grows well on the land, demand for the crop from a local anaerobic digestion (AD) plant recently became somewhat unreliable. Then in January 2021 we heard the plant would no longer want the acres they had implied they did just the day before.
So, with some apprehension, it seemed the only alternative was back to grain. A week later, in January, we ‘bit the bullet’ and purchased Laureate spring barley seed. In March it went in the ground. All progressed well until the gales and rain of last June flattened large areas of the crop and exposed it to huge flocks of scavenging wood pigeons.
The local birds ‘spread the word’ quicker than Twitter and, within a couple of weeks, it appeared we were supporting their mates from all over England. I think a few even had a Scots twang. Despite all efforts, they attacked it incessantly until harvest in mid-August.
Things didn’t improve. My neighbour’s combine struggled to lift the bird trodden crop off the ground and a potential ‘two-and-a-half ton-plus’ crop became suddenly little over two tons. One accepts that is a natural farming risk, something that we quickly learn to accept. But there are others!
Then it came to marketing. The grain was tested for malting, the sample not unexpectedly failing, so was now only feed value. Early last September I managed to get an acceptable offer and it was sold for £173 /ton. (Yes, I know it’s worth a lot more now!) However, the buyer then announced: “But you won’t be paid until the end of November” … ten weeks’ delay?
The reason soon became clear when their bills began falling through the letterbox. First the “haulage to store”. A new one to me. This was “payable in 30 days” at some £8 a ton. Accompanied by their ‘inevitable’, but deductible, credit charge. From our past experience haulage was always down to the buyer?
Then, two weeks later comes another bill for a month’s storage, another £5 a ton, these two now reducing the value to £160/ton! Where would this end? After a brief call they did agree to drop further storage charges, although I was still left wondering why they couldn’t pay us until 10 weeks after the sale?
By this stage I was considering what would be their reaction if I too had adopted their method, and sent them a similar invoice, with credit charges added. But then, the payment date finally arrived… Nothing! Another call… “Sorry. We had misfiled the cheque.” How convenient! Payment was finally received a week late. No, they haven’t changed their spots!
Did you read the press report recently of the 72 year-old Essex man who, when the police raided him following a tip off, was reportedly found to have some 500 unlicensed firearms? He received a £2,000 fine, suspended prison sentence and had the guns taken.
It reminded me of something that happened some 35 years ago, when my father had a rather similar experience. There was a general national weapons amnesty, I think in the mid-eighties, and he had a collection of serious firearms, acquired from one or two military friends during the 1939-45 war.
One, Bob Dodd, an old friend of father who served with the Parachute Brigade, was sadly killed in Sept 1944 at Arnhem. We had a relative in Holland and a contact of his located Lt RGW Dodd’s grave in the Airborne Cemetery in Oosterbeek. He died as he had lived! I can just recall him.
Nobody asked how they got the guns to father, or how he may have acquired the others, but he had around a dozen lethal weapons. To cut a long story shorter, we persuaded the Old Man to take advantage of the amnesty, just to ‘unload’ us of the responsibility of these illegal weapons in the future, along with the little ammunition he hadn’t already used. It was a great opportunity.
So, one day we loaded the guns into the Land Rover, covered by a sack, and dad turned up late one afternoon at the local police station, back in the days when police stations were open 24 hours a day.
To get their attention he walked in with a couple of the guns and laid them on the counter. I’m told everyone rushed for the exit… The local paper the next week ran a story of how “a local pensioner had unexpectedly unloaded this cache of high-powered weapons on the unprepared police station”. He was not arrested or charged because of the amnesty, but God knows what trouble he would have been in without it.
I was told as a child one of them was a Mauser revolver… but I was too young to ask questions. Several of the farm cats were ‘good mousers’ too. This, though, was not an old cat but one of the legendary German weapons. Bob told father he had taken it a couple of years earlier from a dead German. The only other gun I knew about was a large ‘repeater’ rifle that would, so it was said, “down a plane at 1000 ft” but I never saw that demonstrated. What’s all this got to do with the farm you ask? Not a lot!
Just now the old place is pretty quiet, but days are now drawing out quickly, life will soon get busy again.