It is the season of ploughing matches, an opportunity for not only the farming community to get together but also the public to see the traditional art of ploughing across the ages – horse draw ploughs to the very latest satellite navigated tractors of multiple horsepower. Also, importantly an opportunity for children to experience a day out in the countryside. Shockingly, for many youngsters a visit to a farm and seeing such activities, even just running about in a muddy field, is something they have never done before.
Last week’s Laughton and District ploughing match took place at South Farm, Rodmell by kind permission of the Wettern family. This society has a very strong education section; they welcomed pupils from Western Road Primary School, Lewes. It was heartwarming to see the excitement on their faces as they learnt about where their food comes, saw sheep being sheared, took part in activities and competitions, and watched ploughing with tractors of all ages, including horses.
It was lovely to see their curiosity and awe as they were shown around some seriously large machinery including a combine with an exceptionally lengthy header. Just the job for combining the vast fields on the downs. In our small traditional lowland fields, once up and down with that combine, in some cases just up and not down, the job would be done, if you could get it into the field in the first place.
The farming community turn out on these occasions, not only to meet up with kindred spirits, friends, and neighbouring farmers, but also to welcome the public and act as ambassadors for British agriculture. A business which is having to look hard to find purpose as we face the challenges of confused messages coming from government and Defra.
Over and over, I hear the question, “Do they want us to produce food or are we being driven towards rewilding for public good?” That is certainly the message we are getting as we trawl through the mountains of booklets, websites, and messages from land agents who come to decipher and advise on the various schemes on offer – I hasten to add, paid for by Defra!
This reminds me of Margaret Beckett telling the British people to venture out into the countryside in their droves and caravans, park up anywhere they liked and never mind about farmers producing British food, let alone local.
Her message then was that we could import everything we could possibly need. It was a bad policy then and it is a dreadful policy now, but I fail to see much difference when you look at the direction of travel. Let us hope I am wrong.