Big equipment, big investment as potato planting is under way

There are competitors, such as the delicate green of emerging spring barley, or pink cherry blossom where there are enough trees to make a show, but yellow is the dominant colour of spring.

That was particularly noticeable in last week’s bright sunshine when we were reminded of how big some gorse clumps are, with oilseed rape coming into flower as the tens of thousands of daffodils planted along farm and country roads fade, and not forgetting dandelions. Local councils and keen gardeners do forget too often, apparently, mowing down dandelions – an important food source for bees and other insects – as grass cutting gets into top gear from a standing start.

So much for colour which, like admiring the view, has to take second place to getting farm work done, such as spreading fertiliser, spraying crops for various good-husbandry reasons, lambing, calving and planting potatoes, although it’s seldom these days that all of these jobs will be on the same farm. Increasing specialisation has seen to that, with potatoes a good example. Instead of most lowland farms growing a few acres, specialist growers and companies now rent land to grow several hundred, or thousands, of acres.

Big investment and specialisation mean big equipment to cover a lot of ground as fast as possible, with several expensive machines at work at the same time. A lot of potatoes have been planted in the past couple of weeks in our area, all growers hoping for better prices than they have received this winter.

Noticing one such field as I drove past and estimating the market value of the machines at work – I got as far as £500,000 and gave up – there was almost a sense of nostalgia when the next field I came to produced an example of what used to be a rite of spring – lifting stones.

One man, one tractor and trailer, on a recently-drilled field of spring grain, stopping every few yards to get out and pick up stones. It was always what I’d call ‘a plain job’, one of those tasks that no-one looked forward to. When there were more of us about on farms, it might not be so bad with two or three walking alongside the trailer lifting stones and an older, or often youngest, member of the family, driving slowly. A bit of banter, a bit of a laugh, the occasional tussle with the largest stones. Would it be a trial of strength and a possible rupture, or leave it for a special trip with the fore-end loader?

Looking back, it was ridiculous some of the stones we insisted on manhandling on to a trailer just to prove we could do it. The man I watched for a minute or two last week wasn’t trying to do anything like that. He was taking a quiet, methodical approach that wouldn’t tax his strength too much, happy for a few hours to be out of the hurly burly, rush rush, of other spring work. I almost envied him. But I’ve done enough stone lifting not to get too nostalgic.