Enthusiasm and dedication of farming’s unsung heroes

Looking at the standing water in Borders and North Northumberland fields it’s difficult to believe that most farmers have escaped lightly in what is now officially the wettest winter on record.

That’s winter as defined by the Met Office of the calendar months December, January and February, none of this “Winter starts on December 21, spring starts on 21 March” business. Calendar months is also my own preference for dividing the seasons, even if giving the Met Office my endorsement is rather like Mrs Thatcher’s famously unnecessary comment “As God once said, and I think rightly …”

In fact the winter of 2013/14 became the wettest on record by half way through this month and many areas have had more heavy rain since then. Others such as Somerset and Wales are way above the average and have had much of the publicity because of lowland flooding. Less publicised, the west of Scotland has had almost 100 centimetres in the past three months, more than Somerset.

Thankful for small mercies as we are, standing water causes problems wherever it is, particularly as the spring sunshine we’ve seen something of in the latter half of February encourages incorrigible early-bird gardeners to cut grass and makes farmers itch to spread fertiliser, spray growing crops and sow spring ones. Some are less deterred by soggy soil than others and evidence of the ruts in fields created by the impatient will be there until harvest.

Apropos the Somerset floods and the undoubted misery caused to farmers and home owners I see that a group of ladies involved in farming and horses in Fife are trying to raise funds to help farmers in the south of England feed their livestock. The fund raising will be by dinner and a ceilidh. Well meant, but it always strikes me as strange that raising money for a disaster means having a good time.

One of the many paradoxes of farming is that while the number of farm staff has fallen dramatically in the past 50 years because of mechanisation and changing systems, there are still a remarkable number of – mainly – men with long service on one farm. As we reported last week, the dedication of 18 employees with a total 729 years of service was recognised at the biannual Border Union Agricultural Society lunch.

There’s no doubt we’re in a different world now than when long service awards were introduced. That was a time when farm workers tended to move jobs frequently, either because they didn’t like their employer or vice versa, a time of annual hirings, low pay and poor quality housing.

But what was obvious from the potted histories of the 18 recipients at the recent awards lunch – one, Jake Fairley, with more than 60 years to those with 30 years – was the interest, enthusiasm and dedication to their work each one still has: farming’s unsung heroes.