I have to admit to feeling something of a sham at the moment. I am still a fairly active farmer but, at the time of writing, have not been to the Hill Farm for weeks to inspect the progress of the new vineyard. The vines are not my responsibility, yet after seeing the farm almost daily since installing a new herd there in 1969 I still feel a great affinity to the place which has been part of my life, all my life.

As such, while my business remains owner of the land where the vines are planted, perhaps that alone entitles me to regular inspections? Yet with this health crisis still rumbling on, my spirit of self preservation has kept me rather too far away from the action. I hate to think how difficult it would have been were the herd still there. Instead I have to rely on updates from Emma, now getting increasing ‘hands on’ experience, since she is now contracted out, part time, to the new project. She tells me the grafts are looking very happy on the site.

Meanwhile I am in charge of the maize on the Home Farm which I can access by foot, car or quad bike. Early signs are that it is looking good, but the proof will be visible in the next few weeks when we will see if the steady rolling it received after sowing has deterred those damned wireworm. As I said in April it is rather ironic that many of the most effective chemicals in an arable farmer’s armoury have been withdrawn by the EU and, in the case of wireworm we have to rely instead on a remedy perhaps 200+ years old for protecting seeds. “Give the crop a good heavy roll to stop the pests moving so easily through the soil.” It’s rather like being told to go back to working the farm with a pair of horses? But there it is, so, until our government makes a clean break with many of these EU rules and regulations we are stuck with it.

The maize land all had some 26 tonnes per acre of (ex-AD plant) digestate applied pre ploughing, as a condition of growing it. Apparently this improves the ‘green credentials’ of the AD plant/end user, but to see the operation, the sheer machinery costs, machinery movements and fuel involved, I didn’t actually see very much saving for anyone, or any fossil fuel economy worth advertising.

I had an interesting exchange of emails recently when I found the conditions were perfect to burn last winter’s fallen and cut timber. The wet weather had kept us from doing the job for months, so when it finally dried I went through all the procedures, obtained consent from the fire service, made sure the wind was right and lit a match to a paper bag, then whoosh. Very rewarding to get the job done so easily and that evening I settled down to catch up with the day’s events. One of the first things was to read the latest emails, since I live by them these days. They are ideal when dealing with non-urgent matters, because they can be answered when convenient. The first communication was from someone I knew was ‘trouble’, a ‘very important’ local councillor. In the form of a message addressed to around 50 individual residents of the hamlet, he asked them to “have a word with their local (but unnamed) farmer”, me, and persuade him/me to stop having “so many fires” because it was unsociable and a danger to health. So now all the neighbours believe I have acted in an unneighbourly manner. No doubt he had posted something similar on social media but I have never been involved in those dangerous things, so it would have gone over my head.
Then he went on to accuse me of “having similar fires for months”. This seemed a bit odd as the last one I lit here was back in October, to tidy up another fallen tree. By now I was becoming just a smudge irritated. He had presumably obtained his information from someone confined by the ‘virus lockdown’ who obviously needed something to do with their time. Yes, he had seen numerous fires in the locality, but spread over some 1/3 of a mile because they had been from neighbours’ garden bonfires. Not mine.

This is the sort of thing many other farmers have had to deal with regularly. Complaints range from ploughing footpaths, cattle out in meadows they wish to run their dogs in, the state of footpaths and of stiles youths have smashed up, to muddy gateways; you name it, we get it! Of course it’s always the ‘farmer’s’ fault. A year or two back I had to tell one ‘resident complainer’ that if he cared to pay me £5,000 a year I would leave one meadow empty of cattle and give him sole rights to walk his dogs on it. He thought better of it, but these people just don’t seem to realise these fields are actually the farmer’s ‘shop floor’ and, ultimately, where his living and their food comes from.

Now we are almost free of the EU it will be more important than ever we grow feed, rather than huge ‘national forests’ or ‘rewild’ farmland, as one large landowner in Sussex has done, using land which, while Weald clay, had previously supported several nice dairy herds. Such projects have been given too much publicity, on the likes of Countryfile, aiming to persuade the general public, and non-farming newspaper or TV editors, of the countryside’s future as one big park. Where they think the country’s food will come from God only knows.