For those still looking for last-gasp Christmas presents – not a select group and one that, from experience, includes many farmers – I’d like to recommend the Old Pond Publishing website.
There is no irony in that recommendation because there must be a market for DVDs such as Massive Backhoe Dredgers, Bulkhaul, Volume 3, Heavy Lifting and Hauling and an extensive range of Know Your… combines, tractors, diggers, buses, trains, sheep, cattle, dogs, more sheep, horses, ducks and chickens.
I say “must be” because otherwise Old Pond wouldn’t have such a comprehensive range covering virtually every type of tractor ever used in Britain, most types of farm machinery – new this year, Beet Harvesters in Britain – as well as instruction DVDs on match ploughing and welding, plus others on lorries, mining and logging.
There’s nostalgia for old-style harvests, working horses, wartime farming, thatching and sheepdogs. Not forgetting Andrew Arbuckle’s gentle reminiscences of a farm childhood in We Used to Wave at the Baker and that Henry Brewis’s cartoon books and stories are still front-runners in the humour section many years after Henry’s untimely death.
Those books probably sell steadily, but I have no idea what sales are like for a DVD such as Massive Wheeled Loaders or Seventy Years of Garden Machinery. Not huge, I’d guess, and the word “anorak” – or possibly worse – might spring to mind when thinking of who would buy one.
But someone who enjoys the minutiae of cricket statistics can’t call anyone else an anorak whatever their pet interest.
I also believe that most farmers have a chromosome labelled “mechanical/machinery” that doesn’t appear on the official human genome map. That’s why vintage machinery displays always attract a crowd and why Old Pond Publishing, and good luck to it, sell the DVDs and books it does.
Back in the non-festive world, livestock farmers in Scotland and the north of England have been warned that the worst is yet to come with the Schmallenberg virus which causes abortions and deformed foetuses in sheep and cattle.
Government and research centre vets believe that the more than 700 cases of Schmallenberg infection reported so far, mainly in the south and Midlands of England, might only have “scratched the surface” of what is to come. In the worst cases reported so far farms have lost up to 50 per cent of lambs.
That is a horrifying and frightening statistic for an infection spread by midges.
Just as frightening is the fact that six cases reported in Scotland were all found on farms that had brought animals in from high-risk areas of England.
If “anorak” is the word that springs to mind for buyers of harmless, if mind-numbingly boring, DVDs, what word springs to mind for those who risk bringing in animals from known high-risk areas for any disease?
Penny Johnston, policy manager for NFU Scotland’s animal health section, said: “If the virus has moved into Scotland, the impact will depend on where the disease is, when it arrived and the temperature limits at which it can replicate within midges.”
At present no one knows the answers to those questions. But we can all worry.
Apart from the idiocy of “importers” there are two more particularly worrying factors about the virus.
One is that it is not behaving as predicted. The second is that when Schmallenberg was first identified as a risk in Britain less than two years ago, it was thought it mainly infected sheep. But almost twice as many cases have been reported in cattle of the more than 700 confirmed so far and the potential value of a calf is much greater than that of a lamb.
The report by the Rent Review Working Group of how farm rent reviews should be conducted in Scotland has been given a cool reception by NFU Scotland among others.
Set up by the Tenant Farming Forum and chaired by Henry Graham, the respected former head of Clydesdale Bank’s farming division, the working group recommended only a voluntary code of conduct for landlords and agents trying to get rent increases. Tenants want compulsory legislation.
But the group, surprisingly to many, concluded that no amendment was needed to the section of the 1991 Tenancy Act that relates to a farm rent being related to “comparable” rents in the area; in the so-called Moonzie case eventually settled last year by the Court of Appeal, the court ruled that the landlord could make rent comparisons not just with traditional, “permanent” tenancies, but with short-term limited duration tenancies where rents are almost invariably higher.
Not a festive note at all, I was sorry to see that Andrew Biggar, late of Magdalene Hall, St Boswells, had died recently at the age of 97. His life as a soldier, radio presenter and performer and innovative farmer has been well documented locally and nationally.
I like to remember him as a pawky, cheerful, man who had a good word for most of us and, typically, won an award as Scotland’s senior learner of the year for a late-acquired computer skill. He was 94 when he won that.