The Farmers Guardian headline last week read, “Straightforward harvest comes as relief to farmers”. The article by Olivia Midgley reported that the end is in sight for the 2013 harvest with operations being helped by the good weather.
Had Olivia written the piece after the weekend, and had she consulted a number of farmers in this area, she would have noted that some of us are far from seeing the end of this year’s harvest. And now the torrential rain over the weekend which is predicted to continue well into the week is not exactly helping to get the job done.
The spring barley needs a further four to five days of wall to wall sunshine, and the Lupins, I am told by the expert for whom I am growing the crop, require a further seven to fourteen days. “Have a little more patience”, he cheerfully advised me.
Well, it’s all very well being told to be patient but with the still vivid memory of last autumn’s futile dash to get crops drilled before the rain left the fields too wet to get anything done until late in April still fresh, it’s a hard call.
The BBC is raising the issue of the link between British food producers and consumers in a series of three one hour programmes called Harvest, this week. The programmes are intended to reveal the secrets behind the culmination of the crop growing season and shed light on farming and its contribution to our diets.
The Farmers Weekly noted that the programmes will give an early harvest report for what could be the first time on national television. In the 18th century, the annual harvest report was the most important document in Britain, as it reflected the country’s wealth. The series producer Steve Evanson said, “Today we have lost the connection between the people that live in this country and the food grown here, and we hope Harvest can help change that”.
Each programme will feature a different intensive farming enterprise. The producers consider some agriculturally themed programmes have romanticised farming and focused on niche, small-scale producers. The BBC team were therefore only interested in commercial-scale producers selling direct to super-markets.
The programmes presented by Philippa Forrester and Greg Wallace on BBC2 are on Wednesday 11 and Thursday 12 at 8pm, and Friday 13 September at 9pm. They feature specialist fruit, vegetable and arable producers which they have followed during the course of a year, in Essex, Herefordshire and Cambridgeshire.
I hope the programmes will be well advertised and be watched by a wide audience. This is an innovation for the BBC particularly at prime time viewing and no doubt audience ratings will determine whether the corporation follow these programmes with others showing the importance of livestock farming.
It is of course necessary to have a fairly accurate assessment of the total UK production following the harvest. This information allows government agencies to ensure the national food reserves are adequate; a case of ‘good housekeeping’. Perhaps therefore it is also a false economy to scrap the ten-yearly census due to spending cuts.
As Simon Heffer noted in the Daily Mail, the data helps governments plan the provision of public services and is crucial to dealing with immigration, education, health, housing and the care of the elderly. Without knowing how many inhabitants there are and their age it is surely impossible to make appropriate plans and contingencies for the future.
The census is costly and cannot be entirely accurate but in view of the inability of consecutive governments to either check or curb migrant arrivals at our borders or anticipate the annual birth rate, a paired down, less intrusive, cheaper census should surely be maintained.
The crises of overcrowding in both primary and secondary schools, and the intolerable strain on the Health Service which is reaching breaking point not helped by health tourism, the lack of affordable housing and the need to update the national infrastructure are all part of this debate.
Carola Godman Irvine