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Anton Coaker: Round-the-clock harvesting sparks interest from Radio 2

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 06, 2012

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And so the sun returns.

Why ever it waited so long I don't know, but I'm mightily glad to see it. We have, unsurprisingly, cut almost every bit of grass left to mow, and are running around like mad things trying to get it as dry as we can, and picked up again. The shortening daylight hours are one fly in my soup, and the sheer amount of water in the soil to start with is another. Between the above, the dew barely lifts all day in some spots, which has slowed down proceedings no end. The baler is sinking in places where I've never had it sink, and when the sun comes out properly, the moisture coming off the ground is making it feel oppressively "close". The heavy crops of grass keep on turning up lank green bits, so at the time of writing, everything so far has been going into plastic. I'm hoping by the end of the week we'll be calling some of it hay, and avoiding more wrap.

For added jollity, the big stretches of open ground are long behind us now, and we're down to the fiddly little paddocks and meadows, most of which are infested with granite and molehills. Those brief moments in July, when we were charging into golden fields of hay, watching the bale counter gallop into triple digits, are replaced by a war of attrition. Now tallies of 10 or 20 per field are the order of the day. On the bright side, the total is steadily rising to a very healthy pile of fodder. This is a very comforting thing for a cattle farmer to have around.

All the activity involves the usual steady smattering of breakages. Most of them so far have required no more than the lump hammer and a welder. Indeed, one or two are right up there in my personal "bodged it" hall of fame –or is that "rogues gallery" – of agricultural cannibalism? For the uninitiated, I should explain. When the pressure is on, and a vital piece of harvesting equipment fails – due to metal fatigue, or possibly granite abrasion – and someone limps back to the yard with some bent piece of gear hanging from the tractor, an immediate repair is highly desirable. Often, this may be no more than using the welder to glue some bit back where it has torn free, albeit with an eye to seeing if we can stop the beggar coming lose next time. It is not unheard of however for the repair to be effected using bits of scrap cut from some rusting artefact lurking in the nettles. Recycling I expect they'd call it now, but it is very satisfying to find a use for such detritus in these cosmic bodges.

Obviously, one could simply send a telegram, or perchance a homing pigeon, to the local machinery dealer, and order a "new one". This policy is quite alien to me though, and anyway, where's the fun in that? Besides, with the clock ticking, and the machine needed back in the field 10 minutes ago, sometimes it just won't wait.

Still on harvesting matters, I was quietly pleased to listen to the Radio 2 drive-time show a couple of evenings this week.

Someone had phoned in to ask why some farmers make straw bales that look like Jenga blocks, while others make "cotton reel" bales? The resultant phone calls came in, over a couple of nights, with varying degrees of sensible answers, along with a number of farming callers merely reporting how they were getting on combining. Finally, one caller was introduced to listeners to explain further how harvest was going, which he did very eloquently. When asked if he'd finished for the night, he gently told the DJ that, no, they'd worked through til one the previous night, and it looked like being another late one tonight. No fanfares or strident righteousness, just matters of fact. The DJ was politely interested, and clearly appreciated that the harvesting operations going on beyond the reach of urban streetlights are of great import to everyone, rural and urban alike.

Now obviously the antics of some balding git chasing a few bales of haylage round a hillside on Dartmoor don't exactly feature highly on the nation's score sheet, especially compared to the calm and collected arable operator interviewed. But, none the less, it was nice to catch just a whiff of that "being appreciated" feeling. Well done to all concerned.

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