I spent the morning eagerly perched on the edge of a field.
I was utterly immersed in the hum of harvest.
As a child my brother would spend weeks – probably most of his summer holiday – stood on the side of the fields surrounding our house.
He would watch the coming and going of tractors, combine harvesters and balers, fascinated by the scene unfolding in front of him.
Most days he’d hitch a ride in one of the tractors and the smile wouldn’t leave his face.
Today I felt like him all those years ago.
The hum of harvest started yesterday and field-by-field we’re beginning to be surrounded by it.
First up, it’s the wheat.
As I sat, taking it all in, the scene seemed almost biblical in proportions.
Tractors were thundering past, at what seemed like one hundred miles an hour, trying to reach the combine harvesters before they filled with grain.
They thundered back in the opposite direction a little more sedately, full to the brim with grain – carting it off to who knows where. In the blink of an eye another appeared ready for the next load.
Hedge cutters were sauntering along the field margins tidying hedgerows.
Balers were scooping up the straw in the wake of the combines.
More tractors appeared and piled their trailers with a dozen crisp bales and off they went.
Chicken manure sat in the corner of the field patiently waiting to be applied to the earth.
It was like a scene from Noah’s Ark, there was two of everything – two combines, two tractors, two balers, two hedge cutters and a forklift thrown in for good measure.
Overnight, the wheat fields have been knocked down, the rape seed has long gone and the beans and barley still stand strong waiting for their turn (followed much later by potatoes and sugar beet).
I’m always fascinated about how quickly the landscape changes during harvest, it always feels like such an intensive activity – not in any way damaging the landscape but intensive in the speed of the operation.
We’ve gone from five full fields of wheat surrounding us to a sea of straw stubble within a matter of hours.
For me, there’s something terribly exciting about watching the harvest – you can see and hear the landscape changing in front of you. I can’t quite put my finger on it but there’s an excitement, an optimism and a sense of industry in the air
You know that this year, at least, food will remain on the table.
Baskets will be piled high with bread, beer will be brewed, flour will flow, rape seed oil will pour and potatoes will be roasted. There will be sugar, peas, beans, carrots, apples, strawberries, salad and much more inbetween – and it all comes from the land that surrounds us here in Norfolk.
Now, I know it’s not as simple as that – the wheat this year seemed very short, a sign perhaps that prices – for both food and straw – may increase in the future.
I asked a local farmer about this and he seemed impressed with my observation. It was all to do with the high proportion of rain we had this winter followed by the spring drought, he said.
A quick internet search revealed that we only had 30% of our average rainfall in the period from mid-March to mid-July.
It also revealed that wheat yields are sliding this year.
With the harvest only just underway, a reduced wheat yield is predicted – much to do with the weather, in some cases the rain didn’t stop long enough for winter crops to be drilled meaning that we may have the smallest wheat area in the ground since 1978.
While it is reported that the yields look on the low side of average, the quality is generally looking high – the fuller picture will be revealed as time marches on.
But for me, it’s time to appreciate the hive of activity – not minding a bit as I gently fall asleep at night to the hum of harvest all around me, thanking farmers for steadily working day and night to bring the harvest home.