By The Hodge
‘Dry August and warme,
Doth harvest no harme.’
Thomas Tusser, 1571
August is, of course, the time for holidays – a time to relax or indulge, depending on your age and equilibrium; a time to recharge the batteries The schools have broken up, the sun is out, long-planned excursions to exotic places such as the Maldives, Magaluf or Morecombe are suddenly appearing on the horizon and the need to go out and buy suitable new bathing wear or pack-a-macs – depending upon your chosen destination – is now a growing priority. Ahh, the thought of abandoning the office or the supermarket or the building site for a whole fortnight – bliss! The children are excited, the boarding kennels are booked for Rover to enjoy (?) his own break and it’s just a case of counting down the days.
But spare a thought for the farmer. Just when you’re winding down, when the school run is suddenly no longer a serial road hazard, when London is comprehensively owned by foreign tourists, the farmer hits his busiest period. The harvest has got to be got in at just the right time. So, it’s a combination of daily checking the crops for ripeness and the moisture content of the grain, against the long-term weather divinations of the experts, to select just the right day to start. And once started it’s all go for weeks as crops of wheat, barley, oilseed rape and others are gathered in as the cash crops to keep the business going. Interruptions caused by delays in ripening or weather issues extend the season. And it’s not just the grain. The resulting straw rejected by the combine harvester as it greedily extracts the seeds to make bread flour, malting barley for beer, rich cooking oil from rape or animal feed from any of them, has to be gathered up and baled into handy units for storage as bedding for livestock and horses. It’s hot, dusty and dirty. You can’t start combining your crop early in the morning either because of the dew so it’s a mid-morning start once the sun has dried it off and the chance of a late-night finish, especially when there’s a change in the weather predicted.
Science may well get to grips with these fickle crops and get them to mature sooner so that farmers too can take a break and go off to the seaside along with everyone else. I well remember my own childhood when it was not until 1959, when a particularly hot and sunny summer meant that the harvest went smoothly and quickly, that we actually had a holiday in September with my father joining us. It was the only one that ever occurred!
But it’s not just the cereals that dictate the lack of relaxation for the agricultural businessman. Livestock too must come first. Beef cattle and sheep out in the fields with a guaranteed water supply and needing no supplementary feeding can be watched over by a kindly neighbour. However, dairy cows need milking and attention several times a day. Pigs don’t eat grass and need careful feeding as do poultry whether being kept for eggs or meat. Thus, there are more excuses as to why the country dweller can’t join his wife and offspring on a jolly at the optimum time of year. You’d think they didn’t really want to go…