Landlines by Halidon

As the saying goes, half a loaf is better than no bread. So I was as happy as everyone else to enjoy that remarkable spell of hot weather for three days last week that seemed to apply to most of the UK.

And, of course, delighted that the Kent coast had a record September day high of 29.9C, and that for England at least as far north as Sunderland – judging by the Match of the Day pictures – sunshine and warmth continued into Saturday and then Sunday.

A pity that for the Borders and Scotland by Saturday we had dull, misty, humid weather with some drizzle, and by Sunday steady rain that cut short any attempts still being made to finish harvest or bale straw and made potato and vegetable harvesting more miserable and sticky than growers expected.

We can only be grateful we had those three remarkable days when, if that’s possible during what is always now an autumn rush on arable farms, the pace of cultivation and drilling work accelerated.

For some, Saturday’s poor weather had the saving grace of making them feel less guilty about taking a couple of hours to watch England squeak home against Scotland in the Rugby World Cup.

The remarkable weather also produced a flush of newspaper photographs of leaves changing colour and work on farms. But one of a lorryload of big round bales in a national newspaper confirmed yet again that for any urban dweller there is no such substance as straw. If it’s lying in rows in a field or in bales of any size, it must be hay.

There’s probably 50 times as much straw baled and transported as hay, but hay it is in the public mind. It’s a lost battle, so I shouldn’t let it irritate me. But it does, in the same way that any bovine animal, except possibly the biggest of bulls, will inevitably be referred to as a cow.

As well as the weather, for as long as it lasted in different areas, Britain’s farmers had another reason to welcome the end of September with the value of the euro on the last day of the month 86.665p.

The Eurozone might be in meltdown, politicians frantically trying to cobble rescue packages together for whole countries, economists trying to out-depress each other and financial traders sticking to their task of trying to make a killing from human misery, but the concern for farmers remained the value of sterling against the euro on September 30 because that decides how much subsidy they get through their annual single farm payment.

In fact, this year’s value was “only” up 0.8 per cent, but as welcome as the unseasonal weather, not least because it could have been well down.

Will there still be a euro by this time next year? If so, what might one be worth? It’s always a sobering thought for a farmer to realise that the possibilities surrounding that question could have far more effect than any decision he might make or what effect the weather might have in the next 12 months.

Any landlord/tenant debate is guaranteed to get both sides excited. The most recent example, producing a spate of letters to The Scottish Farmer among other things, is the possibility of Scottish Government legislation that would, effectively, give all tenant farmers a right to buy their land whether the landowner was agreeable or not.

As I recall, landowners have been wary of that happening since Scottish devolution in 1999, both individually and through their official organization in its various incarnations in the past dozen years as the Scottish Landowners Federation, the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association and, since January this year, Scottish Land and Estates.

Scottish Land and Estates includes everyone in Scotland who owns the smallest amount of land and is willing to pay the annual subscription.

That includes many owner-occupier farmers. But there is also the Scottish Estates Business Group, a collection of big boys, formed a few years ago to exert more political pressure with the help of a high-powered, and highly paid, public relations firm.

Whatever the groupings and the spin, and whatever collective noun we might care to apply to them – “A moan of landowners”? – tempers have clearly frayed on both sides.

On one hand, it’s possible to sympathise with someone who might be forced to sell unwillingly what is legally their property.

On the other, vast swathes of estates were ill-gotten long ago and have yielded good incomes and lifestyles to their owners ever since.

There are good landowners and many tenants have successful working relationships with them.

There are also many landowners, and their agents, anxious to squeeze as much as possible out of tenants, and improvements those same tenants have made.

There is the further point that, when it has suited them, many landowners have sold to sitting tenants in recent years.

It’s a bit rich to argue now that a Scottish Government legal right to buy would make landowners even more reluctant to let land under any form of tenancy.