I have to confess I get as excited about the first combine harvester coming into action each summer as I do about the first swallows & swifts arriving back from Africa each spring.
While the arrival of the first swallow symbolises the start of summer, and a feat of nature, that this little bird can cross the Sahara desert, the first combine of the year symbolises the start of autumn and a feat of human innovation: modern technological farming.
I can’t help getting excited when I first hear the distinctive hum of a harvester working in a local field on a warm summer’s evening, sending up a cloud of golden dust into the sunset. It sounds the signal that harvest has started, that gratifying period of reaping what we have sown, lamenting lazy summer evenings and fields of gold.
Barley Harvest by Emily Field July 2012
The scale of the machine close up, the efficiency with which it turns a field of barley, with its crispy ripe ears of grain now curled head down into the crop, into neat rows of golden straw and a lorry load of grain ready to take off to the malting factories is totally thrilling. Two men can now do the job of dozens, in a fraction of the time.
Modern farming has achieved better food production than we could ever have imagined a century ago. Things have changed a lot since the Victorians started inventing and creating the first machines to do the work of the horses.
Done right, modern farming can yield fantastic crops, and thanks to Environmental Stewardship Schemes, a clever farmer can yield both food and wildlife efficiently. Using the farmland bird package www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/farming/advice/conservation/package/index.aspx and modern tools, we can grow intensive crops to feed hungry birds in the winter, on 2hectares of land, to compensate for the 100s of hectares that once were full of spilt seed, on the inefficient farms of the past.
Using plants bred to provide more nectar, we can grow intensive plots to support populations of pollinating insects and British honeybees.
And by supporting farmers with public funds, we can even re-create homes for skylarks and lapwings which fill the local countryside with their atmospheric songs and calls for all to enjoy as we relax in the countryside after our hectic modern working lives.
But Caution! This year’s weather hasn’t been easy for our wildlife or our farmers- and even in the modern age- we play roulette with the weather.
I can hear some people crying out for those birds still nesting now, and for our special late season ground nesting birds such as corn bunting, indeed a combine harvester is like an angry tsunami, which its chicks cannot escape. What can a modern farmer do to help? Some farmers can grow spring sown crops which are harvested slightly later, but for the others, our clever RSPB Scientists and wildlife friendly farmers are testing special corn bunting nesting plots.
That’s why I have every faith that modern innovation will be able to save all our iconic species, thanks to the enthusiasm of our fantastic farmers for looking after our countryside.
What do you think of my take on modern farming? Perhaps you disagree?
I'm very jealous that you've seen a combine in action already!
We've had quite a few farming visitors recently who have been looking at our wheat crop with considerable envy. Its a good few weeks off harvest but our contractors and agronomist have done an amzing job to produce such a great crop in a very challenging season. To balance things up we have a bumper crop of blackgrass too.
On the bird front we have two pairs of barn owls nesting: one on chicks (which you may hear more about very soon) and one on eggs. At least 3 coveys of grey (English) partridge as well on the go.
Anyway, I'm off to dream of the combines coming onto the farm here soon to take the oilseed rape in....
Think your take on modern farming is the right one,lots of farmers are trying to improve things and encouragement is sure to get better relations than criticising them.