Landlines: Pulling turnips consigned to history by Halloween market

I did something recently I haven’t done for years and ran a sliver of turnip under a thumbnail.

Saturday, 9th November 2013, 9:00 am

The pain brought back memories, mainly of the “been there, done that, don’t want to do it again” variety.

Memories of freezing pre-mechanical harvester mornings pulling turnips, cutting kale or shawing mangolds or sugar beet when protective gloves equalled effeminacy and you saw blood from a misplaced hook slice before the pain filtered through. Happy days.

The turnip pain coincided with a visit to a friend with an old wooden turnip cutter in his yard, decoration only. We talked about hard labour, carrying chopped turnips in baskets to cattle, and also about cutter-carts behind a tractor chopping turnips for sheep.

We doubted if anyone does that now, or indeed how many farmers still grow turnips on which to run sheep or to feed cattle. Very few I suspect, except as by-products of processing, when most of the turnips grown in the Borders are under fleece – to keep damaging insects at bay – and sold, carefully graded of a certain size, to supermarkets.

Gone are Christmas grain and root shows when a giant turnip, or trio of turnips, was centre of attention. Or almost.

North-east Scotland always claimed to be home of the neep (turnip) and some competitions are still held there. I guess if gardeners get publicity for giant pumpkins, why not for turnips? Although I noted last week that the pumpkin lantern takeover of Halloween is 100 per cent. Ease of scooping out and carving, as well as availability, has done its work and the turnip has had its Halloween day.

I’m not even sure how popular it is a vegetable, even in the north of England and Scotland with our predilection for root rather than green vegetables or salad? Or how quality compares with those we used to pull fresh from the field?

Apart from the self-inflicted thumbnail raising, I wasn’t impressed with the supermarket turnip I finally cut up as my contribution towards a meal – it seemed dry and tasteless. But a retail value of about £1,000 a tonne is food for thought.

Away from nostalgia not being what it used to be to a cluster of Scotland’s main farming organisations sending a begging letter – sorry, request and suggestions – to the Scottish Government about how changes to the European Union’s common agricultural policy (CAP) might be applied when they finally take effect from 1 January, 2015.

Avoiding CAP jargon if I can, farmers in Scotland fear that as well as change from subsidies being paid on how farmers ran their businesses a dozen years ago to so much per hectare, EU money will be diverted from production to “green” policies.

The organisations, a united front headed by NFU Scotland, warned that such a move would “blow a huge hole below Scottish farming’s waterline, leaving the industry sinking fast.”

To my own response to that – “Give it a rest!” – we can add that of Jim Simmons, spokesman for the New Entrants Group of younger people trying to get in to farming, or stay in.

He said there are opportunities to encourage growth in Scotland’s livestock industry within the new CAP, but instead the NFU is all “me, me, me.” True, and sad, Jim, but it’s not going to change.