As with many family catchphrases I can’t remember where or when our “Onward and upward!” started. But we trot it out in difficult times.
More precisely, we tend to use it when there is a hint that problems are easing and light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train coming in the wrong direction. So I got the “Onward and upward!” feeling at the weekend when after what seemed like six months, but might be a year, the weather improved.
The full benefit of a rise in temperature and the prospect, even if illusory, of compensatory growth for grass and crops was mitigated by the unpleasant and blustery wind. But even that was tolerable when the temperature was 14 or 15 degrees, compared with a steady four to six for the previous lifetime of hats, gloves, thermals and incipient frostbite, and the sun shone.
Humans, like animals, respond to the sun on our backs. Goodness knows it was needed as the full horror of late March snow for sheep farmers in parts of Ireland and the west of England and Scotland was revealed as snow melted, in the shape of hundreds of dead animals.
Nor will mid-April sun and higher temperatures alone reduce the knock-on effects of that snow and last summer and autumn’s miserable weather on crops, grass and livestock. The countryside looks brown, bare and wind-blasted, young lambs in plastic jackets is never a good sign and expectations for the main hill lambing now starting must be moderate at best.
There is also the thought that this late, cold and at times hellish, spring means cutting much grass for silage in May will be unlikely unless compensatory growth in warmer weather – assuming that continues – is remarkable.
But most farmers, whether they say it or not, always have an “Onward and upward!” approach to life and think more about what to do to get on than they brood on the past.
Fertiliser has been spread, spring crops are being drilled, potatoes planted, lowland lambing for those not hit by snow seems to have been reasonable. Healthy lambs now outside with their mothers look well, even if most of the feeding to keep ewes milking is coming, expensively, from bags or hoppers.
In these troubled times it’s good to see a success story and most farmers will have at least some experience and knowledge of JCB products. Turnover for the firm last year was £2.7 billion, profit £365 million, 6,000 UK staff, productivity per employee £69,000 compared with the national average of £42,300. It’s also an export leader – 75 per cent of its UK production goes abroad and last year sales of its farm machinery increased. Impressive, and it’s possible to develop affection for a JCB.
Our record was to buy one second-hand and use it for 30 years. It carried out a wide range of jobs and withstood a lot of rough treatment, as do most JCBs, whatever their age and condition. A company making durable products like that, and a family business too, deserves its global success. Onward and upward!