Landlines: Picking tatties helped many of us to develop a work ethic

In spite of the large acreage of autumn-drilled cereals now going into stubble fields using minimum tillage methods such as heavy discs, traditional ploughing probably still accounts for an even larger acreage.

The pros and cons of minimum tillage versus ploughing in preparing a seedbed will continue – a bigger weed problem with minimum tillage? extra cost with ploughing? – but from an aesthetic point of view few countryside sights compare with a good ploughman in action in autumn sunlight.

No doubt that is easier these days with GPS and computer settings and ploughs turning six to eight furrows at a time, but stubble being turned in and damp soil in wonderfully straight lines running towards the horizon being turned up is always a lovely sight.

There’s a lot of it about at present as harvest has been completed, apart from a few fields of beans here and there, and most straw has been baled and cleared. If only, farmers say, prices were higher for what have generally been well above average yields instead of being at their lowest for at least five years. But hope springs eternal – and many don’t have much option about plans for next year – so next year’s harvest of oilseed and winter barley drilled in recent weeks are through and greening the landscape. A controlled rush to drill winter wheat goes on with large combination cultivator/drills following the plough.

Weather for any farm work wasn’t so good last week, but the first half of September was the driest since at least 1960, when records began for that particular statistic.

Frighteningly so as we gallop through September and harvesting of one of autumn’s other main crops, potatoes, is well under way. It’s a reminder that at one time October was the main month for potato harvesting with school half term in that month referred to as Tattie Week. In some parts of Scotland the crop was so important and schoolboy/girl labour so important a part of the operation that half term lasted two weeks.

Without putting on rose-tinted spectacles it seems to me that the chance to earn money by hard work at an early age helped many of us develop a work ethic that has stood us in good stead since. Lifting turnips, picking berries, singling root crops etc offered the same chance.

The Government’s decision to scrap visas for non-European Union seasonal workers is claimed as a crisis by the NFU because the British unemployed don’t have that work ethic. In fact they’re seen as lazy and unreliable. About 80% give up within five days even though hourly pay could, say the NFU, be up to £8 an hour compared with the present minimum wage of £6.31. No doubt reaching the £8 on piece work is hard – but overseas workers, especially Eastern Europeans bred to it do it. As we did.