One of the less attractive traits of human nature is laughing at others’ misfortunes, but before you do, it is worth remembering that often you reap what you sow.

Which brings me to a cattle pen at one in the morning late last month, with me holding the tail and offering helpful encouragement, while Kev worked the calving jack on a breech.

There must have been a build-up of pressure somewhere inside, and indeed there was a suspicious looking bulge just above where the calf’s legs were sticking out. Kev gave an extra crank on the jack and suspicion was confirmed as a sudden high-pressure jet of you know what exploded directly into his face from short range.

Kev gave a little splutter and carried on. It seemed unfair to laugh, but I’m ashamed to say that didn’t stop me.

Retribution from on high was swift. The very next day I was drawing lambs with Mirchi, from Romania. He’s a great chap, but handling sheep is not his day job and he tends to hold them with the front legs up.

I was working the weigh crate to check them and Mirchi approached with his lamb, front legs in the air. As I turned around, his lamb flicked up a leg and scored a direct hit on me in the worst place imaginable. It’s almost as if it was aiming there.

There is not much fun to be had when discussing the current crisis.

There is a serious risk of home-grown fruit and veg being in short supply this year. Seasonal workers are not able to travel from Eastern Europe for the time being and many people in the UK are out of work, particularly in the hospitality sector.

With this in mind, NFUS and Angus Growers have set up web pages to recruit workers and the response has been fantastic. There now remains the considerable task of training whole teams from scratch to do the skilled manual work required of them, while also keeping all our new-found staff safe, maintaining social distancing and hygiene standards.

One thing is for sure, labour costs will be considerably higher, as learning to harvest crops quickly and efficiently is not an easy skill set to learn.

We are also very conscious that turnover of staff is likely to be higher, as some will find the work is tougher than they expect, and the hospitality jobs might come back later in the summer. Could there be an argument for an National Insurance holiday for seasonal workers this year to ensure we can harvest much needed crops at a reasonable cost?

The logistical and staffing problems faced by horticulture are substantial, but it is vital that we do all we can to solve them, because home grown fruit and veg constitutes almost two-thirds of all fresh produce on the supermarket shelves in the summer months. People are going to be absolutely reliant on us providing them with the ingredients of a healthy diet this summer, particularly at this time when the options for people to take exercise are limited.

This is going to matter even more than usual, as countries across Europe are facing similar issues with labour shortages and distribution networks. Other governments will be looking closely at home grown food and making sure that there is enough to supply their own populations before allowing exports.

If there is one positive thing to come out of this tragedy, it must surely be the realisation to anyone with any sense that ensuring a secure food supply is a first and fundamental duty of any government. When this is all over – and we can take some comfort that at some point in the near future it will be – future food policies at both UK and Scottish governments will need to be revisited with this in mind.

Although most of us are still working, some farmers are having a tougher time of it than others. Ringlink trainers, many of whom are part time farmers, will not be able to do training courses all summer as the demand for them has completely dried up.

The collapse in the lamb price will have hit finishers very hard, the ornamental nurseries are looking at a write off, and rural tourism businesses are also seeing their plans, and a valuable second income, go up in smoke for the year.

Last, but not least, many temporary workers on short term contracts will not be able to access the 80% salary and will have to resort to Universal Credit. Not being well off, they will have an anxious time of it until payments come through. Thoughts are with them all.

On the whole, however, we farmers are in the fortunate position of being able to carry on farming when most people find themselves out of work and effectively locked in their houses. I think it’s important not to forget that, although the situation is grave, we are in a better position than most – we can still spend all day outside. We still have a job.

My view is that if you see more walkers in the countryside than usual and if they have their dogs on a lead and are picking up their mess, you should give them a friendly wave and not a scowl. Put yourself in their shoes – they have probably got no work to go to, and they will be just as worried as you about the situation we are all in.

It will be easier for them to observe social distancing while exercising on a country road than in town. The way we behave towards the public in this crisis will be remembered for at least a generation. Let’s be kind to each other.

In these dark days we should share any ray of light that comes our way, so it gives me great pleasure to announce two good deeds of the month awards. The Stirling family, at Stirfresh,have been donating food boxes to NHS staff, and Caroline and Ross Millar’s Luxury Hideaways have been given over to NHS workers and others who are isolating from their families free of charge.

I promised not to tell, so don’t mention it to anyone whatever you do. Caroline is also hosting a virtual support call for rural tourism businesses every Monday and it has had a great response. Caps off to you, and everyone else doing their bit!


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