Look no further than the chairman of the West Sussex NFU, David Exwood who said in his report for the NFU’s British Farmer & Grower, “February being the month of love, my wife likes to remind me that just for once she gets priority over the farm.”
David uses St Valentine to make the point that most of the time farmer’s spouses and better halves play second fiddle to their livestock, growing crops and other farm priorities. However, once a year farmers are prepared to make an exception and lavish loved ones with roses, chocolates, candle lit dinners, perhaps even a few days away from the farm in February, or at the very least one away day!
Behind his light-hearted banter there is a serious message. It is quite obvious that David loves both his wife and his job. I wonder if many other professions could link the two so enthusiastically, and leap out of bed every morning relishing the day ahead.
As he explains so eloquently, farming is an endlessly absorbing and fascinating business that requires a vast range of skills. Whether growing wheat or grass, a cow, lamb or pig, farmers like David never tire of enjoying the chemistry, biology and physics which make them grow.
The other side of the coin encompasses the times when circumstances, nature, disease or acts of God conspire to make things incredibly tough and disappointing.
It takes, as David says, a certain temperament to cope with everything that life throws at you on the farm. These are the times when the fortunate have an understanding and loving spouse or companion to share their troubles.
Sadly too many farmers live isolated lives. Lack a resilient temperament, or essential home team support, resulting in the shocking statistics recently highlighted once again – On average every week one farmer commits suicide in the UK.
Even so as David clearly says, farmers have a very good story to tell. Take anyone from any background out into a field and explain what we do and why, and most will be impressed. He believes that even the most assiduous vegetarian or vegan would be struck by the care and respect we show our farm animals.
He recently hosted a group of 14 year olds; most had never set foot on a farm before. We can be sure those children left his farm with a good story to tell, and a better understanding about where their food comes from.
We grow the nation’s food and care for the environment. We are the people who should be shouting about it from the roof tops, real people doing real jobs.
We have a very positive story and people will listen if we tell it. We should not rely upon others, for we cannot be sure they will reach those who hold the future of British farming and food production in their hands. If they are, is it the right message? I have my doubts.
We are fortunate that farmer’s like David are prepared to listen to and represent their neighbours. Local NFU office holders are part of the chain which hopefully extends beyond headquarters, into the corridors of DEFRA.
So far I doubt the right message from the grass roots has penetrated inside the M25, let alone the corridors of power. Maybe with a change of leadership at the NFU any day soon, things will change. Time will tell.
The birds are building nests, and as the weather improves farmers will soon be reunited with their beloved tractors out in the fields, as love and life continues in the countryside.