Big thank you from

When farming was so much simpler

The Rambler 21/03/2003

IN my boyhood days, Dad took me around with him a good deal. That is, just before I started school at the age of five. At this time of the year I got well used to the friendly salutation: "How're William. Halve the crops in yit."

Getting the corn sown and the spuds planted was the sole conversation piece in spring. They were all farmers together.

There was only one way of farming - the natural way, no nonsense about "organic this" or "organic that"; certainly no genetic engineering - and no Big Brother dictating the "do's" and "don'ts".

Landowners were free to plant, harvest and sell as they knew best.

The Ministry didn't interfere often and, of course, Brussels had no say.

It was go-as-you-please all the way - or almost. At marketing level, buyers had standards, but those weren't burdensome.

Modern producers must find all that directives-free life incredible.

Environmental pollution was unheard of At hay making time I personally drank from the running stream which formed the town land boundary and many drew water from 'Toby', a shallow spring well at the end of a 'loanen', - the only source of drinking water for several local families.

My forefathers lived to a ripe old age on 'Toby' water - an open, uncovered rural spring well. A short rope and a galvanised bucket was the only vessel needed.

An earthenware crock, under the dresser in the kitchen, took the place of piped water. The well water was never analysed in my experience.

It was a mad world. Crazy by EU standards. Now, with the addition of a lot of smaller states, the enlarged Union must eventually embrace areas as under-developed as Ulster was between the wars.

The bureaucrats will have a field-day enforcing directives. Farmers here are complaining that they are being put out of business by red tape directives and consumers are seeking in vain to find the naturally grown foodstuffs.

Everything is processed and enveloped in useless plastic containers for added value - except the humble spud and the Ulster soda farl.

In the old days, a local policeman had to take a farm census for the Ministry of Agriculture. I am not sure how often, maybe once a year. Again, that was pretty free and easy. The total acreage had to be accounted for and a tally taken of stock.

In the matter of poultry, even the farmers' wife hadn't an exact head count - but who cared. Think of a number and double it!

As a young man, I had to take over the administration of the means-tested old age (70) pension scheme from another department. Existing pension officers carried on and brought the official Code with them.

I would need a book to rehearse the rules in that! In the space available, I will give an outline.

Where a small-holder had made a claim, the Pension Officer had to record the acreage, stock and crops and tour the holding to verify.

First question, how was he to discern who owned which field and which cattle? In one instance we had a lake bisected by the Irish Border and a herd of cattle grazing on the shores - some in County Monaghan, the rest in Tyrone (at Favor Royal). Of course, the Tyrone man claiming a pension only owned three of the cows and their three 'dropped' calves! (Or so he said).

The Pension Officer was a Belfast man, not a farmer's son like me. He hadn't a clue, couldn't tell three acres from five, for example. The old boy got a gunk when he discovered that I knew 'my onions' and a bullock from a calved cow. Ministry of Agriculture statisticians had supplied figures of profit from livestock.

For example, for one cow, maybe £5 a year when all labour costs had been deducted.

Cows running wild on a mountainside in Tyrone, with heather, whins and rocks in lieu of rich pasture, did not need, nor receive, the care given to those, say, at the Greenmount Ministry farm. But the latter standards had to be used as yardsticks by the poor pension officer.

The scheme was ludicrous but the 'townies' engaged in assessing means (happily) were not fully aware of just how ludicrous it was.

A total of £x labour per year was needed to tend the heads of stock which were owned. The decrepit old claimant obviously could not account for it. He didn't pay labour. Who did it? He wasn't fit!

In one case, a tribunal had to accept that a pair of good sheep dogs did it!

As the March Hare had it. "Curious and curiouser" EU directives are much the same!

Ulster Star