landlines

THE first two weeks of September made a remarkable difference to the look of the countryside in our area as thousands of acres of grain were combined, straw was baled and the cleared fields were ploughed as fast as possible for drilling what will be next year’s harvest. Hope springs eternal – or, to put it another way, what are the other short-term options?

Last weekend the transformation was almost complete in most parts with the weather forecast good. With growers keen to drill as much winter wheat as possible there’s not much time to take a breather, but there might just be time for a sigh of relief that the worst of harvest 2012 is over except in some later parts, and for those still waiting for broad beans to dry out enough to cut.

Average yields for every grain crop are down, much grain is thin and of poor quality, drying costs are up, profit is a word not being bandied about. And as always with a late, wet, harvest the worst of the details emerge slowly as dried weights are confirmed, and quality deductions are made.

Most farmers keep calm and carry on, to borrow that war-time slogan, in the face of difficulties and disappointments, but that can’t hide the fact that, according to official figures, the suicide rate among farmers is three times the national average.

A number of reasons are suggested, including lack of someone to share troubles with as many work alone, and availability of ropes, guns, and poisons. And I don’t know if suicide rates among farmers have been checked against spells of bad weather, but it would be no surprise to find a correlation.

Efforts have been made over the years to help farmers considering suicide. The latest National Suicide Prevention Strategy is supported by the Samaritans – telephone 08457 909090 – and Farm Crisis Network – telephone 08453 679990. The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution and, in Scotland, RSABI, are also at the end of a telephone line.

Many obviously do. More than 4,000 people from all walks of life committed suicide in England alone last year and some were farmers; vets apparently are even more likely to kill themselves.

The most at-risk category are men between 35 and 49, when youthful hopes and ambitions have been tempered by life and too many believe that the future offers little or nothing.

We can’t all agree with John Adams, second president of the US, who concluded towards the end of a long, difficult, life: “Griefs upon griefs! Disappointments upon disappointments! What then? This is a merry world notwithstanding.”

It can be hard to believe that sometimes. But a lovely September day of blue sky, sunshine and stiff breeze is a good place to start.

Being down and wondering if it’s all worth it also be put in perspective by tragedy. The deaths of a father and two sons in a slurry pit in Ireland at the weekend certainly shook most people in farming.

One minute a normal, work-day scene from many a family farm, the next horror as two sons tried to save their father. We don’t know the exact circumstances, and won’t until the official report, but can surmise that hearts ruled heads and instinct overruled logic in a desperately sad outcome.

A certainty is that anyone working near a slurry pit in the past few days has been taking even more care than usual and will continue to do so.

Efforts continue to give new entrants a start in farming. The latest is the New Entrants Advisory Panel which will advise the Scottish government on how entrants might be supported by the rural development programme.

Well intentioned, but a more immediate opportunity might be another three 10-year tenancies on offer from the Forestry Commission, two in Dumfriesshire, one in Aberdeenshire. The commission and the Crown Estates in Scotland offered similar tenancies earlier in the year.

I’m all in favour of as many tenancies as possible of whatever duration, but as noted so many times before, the main problem with the farming ladder of legend is the number of old tenants clinging to the rungs above.

An incentive scheme to get the old out might be more effective than attempts to get the young in. Or is that wishful thinking?