When Aiden Turner as ‘Poldark’ first burst onto our screens topless and wielding a scythe, it was so popular in the tabloids, my wife wondered if it might strike a resurgence in a long lost farming skill. Of course, the scything was the last thing they were interested in and it just underlined for me how undervalued rural skills can be (funnily enough the wife wasn’t so bothered).
But still, for those outside agriculture there is little knowledge of the complex mix of entrepreneurial skills and understanding of ecosystems and soils that are required to run a modern farm.
For centuries this knowledge has been passed down through the generations with each new farming incumbent bringing new practices that have worried some of the older generation. In recent years the rush towards technological advances seems to have accelerated. What would Ross Poldark and his ilk think of our harvest techniques now?
Would he even recognise farming today? Probably not, but is that such a bad thing? I understand that in some quarters there is a real fear that we are losing some of the old techniques and practices. Granted. But apart from a spontaneously formed six pack do we really want to hark back to grinding rural poverty, hard work and reduced to relying on the capricious whim of mother nature and this year’s weather cycle?
Technology plays an ever bigger part in farming and we must accept and embrace the fact that the next generation of people involved on the land will be a far cry from the current one.
For example, the modern day tractor operator does not judge himself on how straight his cultivation lines are. That is now a given. Instead he is expected to understand the IT he is controlling, master the application technology and to monitor the soil or crop he is working on.
Other rural roles are changing just as rapidly.
For the agronomist the skill of identifying pests and diseases and coming up with preventative and curative solutions is no longer enough. He must relate his findings to yield maps, drone images and crop models, covering larger areas with increased attention to detail.
And as for the agricultural engineer, who many argue is now just a glorified fitter, he now requires to have knowledge on how to diagnose potential machinery issues from the Cloud without stopping production. Rather him than me!
This is all very well, you might say but it all points to one thing; a much lonelier existence for the average farmer. Yes, I agree and this is not something any of us aspire to. As I’ve said already we need to be alert to the risks of technology; make it work for us not against us and above all keep what makes us human. Agriculture is the key to our very existence and no amount of technology can change that. Our relationship with the land may change but we will still be connected probably in a more intense way that we ever imagined before!
Strange yes, but not necessarily worse.