August on the Farm (2023)

Sloes (Fruit of the Blackthorn). Photo: Colin Wootton

Richard Fonge writes:

The month of August is the main harvest month, and this year like many in the past it has been so far a month of poor weather for both farmers and holiday makers. When there are short spells of fine sunny days it is essential to be able to harvest as much as possible, but it also means that the Farmer cannot wait for the grain to dry naturally to the 14% required for storage, hence it has to be dried artificially, increasing the cost of production, not cheap at today’s energy prices, unless solar panels have been installed on the grain store.

August 1st is Lamass day in the Church calendar. On Lamass day in years gone by when a village like Sulgrave was very dependant on a good harvest, a loaf of bread was blessed in the Church as a prelude to the harvest. This ritual is still observed by a friend of mine at her Church in Warwickshire.

Observing the crops around the village, the wheat looks as if it will yield well, as has the barley this year. The spring barley up the concrete road which has suffered from the heavy storms more than most, now needs fair weather to ripen off and yield well.

A comparison. Sixty years ago wheat yielded 1.5 tonnes /acre on average and ten acres a day could be harvested. 15 tonnes a day. Today 3.5 tonnes and eighty acres a day harvested. 275 tonnes a day.

Last month I referred to Banbury Market and how it was a stockyard of England. It seems incredible to think today but stock was driven through the streets of Grimsbury to grazing on the fields up Overthorpe hill. Once a month there would be a consignment of cattle from Ireland, which would come by train from Holyhead straight to the market and then to those fields, before their sale to local farmers. Markets provided not only a place for farmers to do business, but also a place to share experiences and socialise. So important when often living on a lone holding. Today so few are involved in the industry, due to the great advances in technology and specialisation that loneliness is a problem.

People used to whistle when working, a sound not often heard now. Indeed, those of us of a certain age can remember a radio programme on the Light Wave called “Whistle while you work”. The light wave became radio 2 in the late sixties.

Looking forward rather than back, the hedgerow harvest looks promising, with plenty of blackberries ripening, crab apple trees laden to the limit, and plenty of sloes for the gin, particularly along the old railway line.

Richard Fonge




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