One of the most entrancing sights I’ve seen was a ploughed field covered by spiders’ webs. Coming to it early on an autumn morning with tractor and cultivator to work down ploughing for winter wheat, as far as I could see was a shimmering mass of dew-dropped gossamer.
Not for the first time the poet’s advice about ‘What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?’ occurred to me.
And not for the first time, after two or three minutes of gazing at one of nature’s small wonders, with regret I lowered the cultivator into work, chose the right gear and steadily began to turn wonder into a nice tilth. The same applies to spiders’ webs as sunsets and scenery – none of them pay a farmer’s bills.
That’s one of the reasons we get criticism for being materialistic and looking at farming only in money terms. That is not completely true, but has truth in it. It’s also why I was once lambasted at a Burns’ Supper by a Burns fanatic for suggesting, tongue only partly in cheek, that the poet was probably a poor farmer because he found time to rhapsodise about a mouse and a ewe rather than looking for blight in his potatoes or mildew in his oats.
That doesn’t mean I don’t love the kind of sunsets we had last week, or that unforgettable sight of a field of webs. It’s simply that I know their place in the scheme of things. I’ve never seen a gossamer field like that again, although the number of spiders and their webs about this autumn meant there was hope for some days of the right combination of cloudless calm, sunshine at the correct angle and hundreds of thousands of spiders.
That late surprise of wonderful September weather – with a lunar eclipse and ‘blood moon’ for good measure – and the first few days of October saw the grain harvest almost cleared in our area with growers’ spirits lifted a little further by a modest rise in forward prices.
The bad news was that the average exchange rate for the euro, the currency in which farm subsidies are set by the European Union, was only slightly more than 73p for September. Previously the exchange value has been set according to the rate on one day, September 30. Set on that basis last year the euro was worth almost 78p. It was more than 83p in 2013, and almost 80p in 2012.
On an average individual British farm subsidy of about £30,000 the difference in the value of the euro is not crippling, but it is one more financial concern in a year when the ex-farm price of almost every commodity – milk, grain, beef, sheep – has fallen. On both sides of the border there is also the problem that no guarantee is being given by governments of subsidy payments being made before the end of December. Disrupted cash flow and extra interest to pay on bigger than expected overdrafts may well be a bigger headache for some farmers than a drop in the value of the euro.