By Brian Henderson

With combines sitting idle while driers continue to run overtime, it would be a bit of an understatement to say that there’s not been much cheer for the arable sector over this year’s protracted harvest.

And in recent weeks, the knock-on delay which this has been causing in getting next year’s winter crops established in good order has also been adding to the burden of stress borne by producers.
But the twisting of the knife has been the realisation amongst those who were relying on getting a green cover crop established in the autumn in order to meet their EFA requirements that the deadline is suddenly upon us.

So, unless there has been a huge turn-round in the weather fortunes over the last couple of days, growers have been successful in their efforts to convince the Scottish Government to apply for a green-cover planting extension – and Brussels has had to the good grace to give this the green light – then this could be a bit of a delicate piece to write. 

For I made the mistake of delving into some of the darker regions of the on-line farming forums recently – and there seems to be a wee bit of animosity out there towards some sectors of the agricultural press. 

Chief amongst these complaints is the fact that there is a tendency for some of the farming papers to be a source of unnecessary stress, anxiety and despair for their readers – by peddling fear and despondency and the sort of unmitigated tales of doom and gloom which can take a real toll on the industry’s psychological resilience.

And with some papers (those based outside Scotland, I’m sure!) reporting that it’s going to be little more than a salvage job for those with cereals still to be cut, alongside tales of straw shortages and the inevitable dire consequences for the livestock sector, it’s not all that hard to see where these complaints are coming from.

So, with everyone already painfully aware of the problems the arable sector has been facing over what is proving to be a hell of a drawn out harvest – I really don’t want to heavy-handedly add to the glass-half-empty view which is beginning to permeate the industry. 

I guess there are two courses of action open for someone writing in the farming papers when the industry is facing up to a major problem like this. 

One option would be to assume we’d all be a damn sight better off if we just kept away from the latest doom-laden topic altogether, be it weather related, political or purely economic, and to speak – or rather write – about something else entirely in order to divert our minds.

But these issues don’t go away if we ignore them – so I guess the other approach is to tackle the predicament head on and set out just how bad the situation is. 

In the farming industry, when a lot of us don’t get out and about all that much, it can sometimes be a source of some relief to realise that we’re not on our own in facing a particular problem. Being reminded that other people are sharing the same predicament can help put things into perspective. 

I have a friend and neighbour who often turns up shortly after harvest has finished and, rather than comparing crop and forage yields, livestock successes and business decisions which proved highly successful, we tend to compare disaster stories. 

Nothing too outrageous and always within the bounds of believability – but it helps ground a lot of frustrations and I’m sure it works better than several sessions of therapy. 

On the other side of this coin, however – and this was another of the major gripes on the internet – some of the farming media do have a tendency to focus only on the successes of the high fliers and performers. 

While it can be inspirational to read articles on the top performers in their field, encouraging us to aspire for better results for ourselves, it can sometimes be a bit depressing when spirits are low to constantly find your own figures are well below those being claimed by some of the top units – some of which should be taken with a pinch of salt anyway.

For we can’t all manage to average over 12 tonnes per ha, cut with the latest £0.5m combine over several thousand acres of prime cropping land.

And I often feel that that’s where the industry’s infatuation with benchmarking and comparing yields and output with the so-called top 10% – as is constantly pushed by many of the organisations who relentlessly goad us to strive for better – might actually be having a negative effect on the industry. 

For, however hard you push things, there will come a time when you come up against limits outside your control. And no matter what you do, you’ll never turn a north-facing farm into a south facing one, dramatically alter limitations due to soil, climate, altitude or even remoteness. 

And, of course, your outlook towards investment, as well as your overall financial performance will be coloured by whether you’re a tenant, a paid up owner occupier or one with a considerable mortgage or overdraft overhanging the business.

Of course it’s worth remembering that official statistics can be misleading – and that when it comes to gauging our own performance. In an arithmetical quirk, 90% of us believe that our farming businesses lie in that fabled top 10%!