NOW RETIRED, David Evans managed St Fort Farm in Fife for 27 years before moving down to Lincolnshire to manage a 4000 acre estate belonging to the Limestone Farming Company for a further 15 years. He spent his retirement in North Wales where he owned 15 acres and kept 20 cows until he was no longer able to look after them, and sold the remainder of his beloved Lincoln Red Herd to the Balcaskie Estate in Fife. He now lives with his daughter near Cirencester, and although increasingly physically frail, his mind and farming brain remain as sharp as ever and he spends his time reading and writing.

IT WAS 2.30am and he was warm and comfortable in bed, but his brain was active and would not let him sleep anytime soon, which is why he decided to indulge in virtual farming.

Obviously to plan your farm you have to know the land, rainfall and distance from markets, but if you are virtual farming you would not lumber yourself with poor land in a high rainfall area, miles from markets.

He settled for 560 acres of good loamy soil with 30 acres of park type permanent grass with a few splendid mature trees. Should probably plant a few more Holm oak, red oak perhaps a Cedar of Lebanon to one day be like those beauties in Clumber Park. Think again about that.

The winter barley would be a beautiful crop and if the straw wasn’t needed might whole crop it leaving time to spread muck to confuse the flea beetles and get a good OSR crop. Plenty of bees but might like to start with a couple of hives of his own. This is followed by a fantastic crop of wheat. Pause here to think of those other unsung heroes, the plant breeders whose contribution to feeding the nation has been impressive. Their challenges come thick and fast.

After the wheat will come either peas if the land is lightish or beans if it is heavyish. Either way lots of flowers and more bees and insects. This is followed by another wheat equally pleasing and while the neighbours think he is sowing a cover crop it is actually a ryegrass and white clover ley for two years (first year for sheep and second year for cattle) – that is 'integrated farming' which is just a new name for what old Coke of Holkam began about 200 years ago.

Now for the stock. Lincoln Reds in the park land and their deep red contrasting beautifully with green grass and the darker green of the trees. He would talk to them every day reminding Mary 051 that her 11 times great grandam had been bought for £100 from a Lincolnshire Farmer who had had an avenue of hornbeam planted in his honour on the Lincolnshire Showground. Mary 051 had a heifer calf thank goodness.

He was leaning on his well-seasoned holly stick which was exactly what Friar Tuck would have used to give a mighty thwack to a hare courser or fly-tipper in Sherwood and it would not break so if another one popped out from behind a tree he would get similar treatment.

He pictured riding around his farm on horseback – a black mare 16 years and 16 hands, himself comfortable in cavalry style, longer stirrup leathers, heels down, elbows in and just feeling the bit. The mare’s ears rotating as he discoursed on the crops.

3.30am and now digressing wildly, he thought of all of those books in which Iron Dukes and Napoleons gave messages to aide de camps who invariably dug in their spurs and galloped off. Did the fool authors not realise that the charger would have been champing the bit and side stepping, impatient to join in the fun for the last two hours and that nobody with rowels on their spurs would be stupid enough to dig them into a horse’s flank.

That led onto his other argument with the history books. When those medieval inhabitants of our country (more than 2000 years ago) were said to kill most of their livestock before winter if they knew anything about reproduction rates in livestock they would realise that this was not an option and if they had seen the effort needed to salt down just one pig and where could they store the salted meat for goodness sake? That Yorkshire lass who wrote those splendid stories would not make a mistake like that – not Kate Atkinson.

He had worked in the West Riding for a Stanley Atkinson in 1952. An immaculate farmer with an immaculate farm. A tall austere man always hatted, jacket, tie and riding breeches with polished brown boots and gaiters. Undoubtedly, he would have been a vice president or governor of the Great Yorkshire.

He has fallen asleep at last.

Approximately 48 hours later he realised he must fit a field of red clover into the cropping because of its self-fertilising prowess at producing fodder and pleasing lots more bees. Also room must be found for 12 acres of fodder beet.

As acknowledgement of LEAF’s aims, a local lad would be paid a tenner to shoot two crows and hang them up so the nesting lapwings in the fodder beet could have a bit of peace.

The fodder beet would all be lifted and every second or third day in winter, an old-fashioned muck spreader with the metal flails to break the beet into chunks would trundle around the in-lamb ewes and the maiden heifers keeping them fed and occupied.

This reminded him of the setback to 'integrated farming' created by the arrival of six row sugarbeet harvesters that visited one day a week to fill the quota and smashing to shreds the tops so another 10 acres of wheat could be paddled in each week in December to February. Before these monsters appeared, 2000 lovely tight skinned little lambs had come down from the Shetlands each autumn and by the time they were finished the land had been tedded for a crop of spring barley sown in March and in terms of yield could give late sown wheat a fright, or even better it.

A sheep flock was needed for the virtual farm and like the late Queen Mother, he favoured North Country Cheviots above all else. Admittedly, they were guilty of losing a bit of wool in the spring, but did it matter anymore? They were not quite as conscientious at producing lambs or milk as anything sired by a Blue Faced Leicester. That enigmatic creature once described by a famous Scottish livestock breeder from Duns as looking like a snake trying to escape from a bran sack. Surely with modern technology we could select North Country Cheviots to compete in the maternity business with Mules.

A flock of Speckled Faced Beulahs would adorn any field. Would they cross with a Hampshire Down or would his muckle head pass on to his lambs and cause birthing problems? The most productive sheep on the planet are Welsh Mountain, their greedy Suffolk lambs lifting the ewe’s hindquarters off the ground by the end of June. Bit like watching a young cuckoo being fed by its miniscule foster parents. They don’t need shepherding either, in fact they positively object to it, but roaming over barren hillsides is very different to being knee-deep in a land of plenty.

An employee had been engaged for the virtual farm. A capable type, his name begins with JAC and deteriorates into a jumble of Xs and Ks so he will always be JAC and his partner Mrs JAC makes one think of 'Heroines of the Motherland' so two for the price of one. To show how appreciated they are, an old hayshed downwind of the farm is being renovated for them to have their own bed and breakfast pig enterprise (and free straw)

Lying awake very early on Sun morning, two pieces of advice that had been repeated a million times in the last 30 years were reverberating in his brain. The first came from all farm accountants everywhere and basically meant that if you didn’t strangle most of your fixed costs at birth you would eventually go bankrupt. The second is to use the BBC’s favourite word 'controversial' and it was that farmers should stop growing what they liked and instead grow what their customers wanted. This came from marketing consultants, who were not very observant, because most successful companies told their customers what they should want and took every opportunity in adverts and on giant hoardings to them that they would be more beautiful, with whiter teeth and live lives of endless fun if they were to buy said companies' products.

Anyway, there was a layer of food experts and professors of this and that between farmers and their customers. Their consensus appeared to be that everyone should eat lots of green vegetables but a lump of lean meat no more than once a week. Not one of them had the wit to suggest feeding all the cabbages and broccoli to the lambs and then eating the lambs!

The problem is that this lump of red meat is beside a sign saying 'British Beef is Best'. Livestock men would not buy it because they would know that it was tough and tasteless and so dry the next day it would have to be in a curry. Some customers might say that if that is the best they can do, I can do without meat.

Then when the US hormone-treated beef finds its way into the supermarkets and because it contains more fat (and nothing to do with hormones) it is more tender and more tasty than UK beef and makes a good filling in a sandwich next day someone will state on social media that from now on they will only eat US hormone-treated beef! Then who will have egg on their face?

He drifted off to sleep leaving the problem of overheads for another time when sleep evades. He was sleeping better now that the farm was running smoothly.

Every morning at 7.30am a smart young woman in riding gear arrived, made herself a coffee and went into the office and in half an hour had dealt with the paper that accumulates like snow on farmers’ desks the world over and all for making her lovely sorrel mare Flicka a comfortable home.

Insurance would be kept to a minimum because when it paid out four years later you always felt that you had come off worst in the deal. There would be no sprayer and the contractor would be paid promptly for putting up with the unbearable hassle surrounding chemicals and sprayers. Anyway a couple more years and there would be no chemical still 'legal' unless you went to a garden centre and swept up a shelf of little bottles masquerading under another name as suitable treatment for difficult weeds in your footpaths at £7 a pop!

They would like Flindt have their own combine second hand from someone 'upsizing'. All of the kit would be second hand so no starring role in 'What is in your shed' but more importantly not too much depreciation and JAC really looked after the kit because only he used it.

Blackgrass (slender foxtail if you have ever been required to identify a minimum of 15 out of 20 grass species) and overdrafts have not kept our virtual farmer awake. Unwelcome on any farm, they can be, along with any officialdom, totally ignored – which is the biggest attraction of virtual farming!