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Remember what farming has given East Anglia despite busy harvest roads

PUBLISHED: 09:05 07 August 2020 | UPDATED: 09:22 07 August 2020

Fields of shocked wheat near Hacheston Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Fields of shocked wheat near Hacheston Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Archant

At this time of year it is obvious that Norfolk and Suffolk are still farming counties, writes Angus Williams.

Sometimes throughout the year you would be forgiven for thinking that the crops in the fields planted and tended themselves. Apart from seeing the occasional sprayer trundling around a field or a tractor trimming the hedges, you may not see a farmer on a field for months.

But now every field shows sign of activity.

MORE: Farmers distraught as harvest yields plummet

Whether it is a field of oilseed rape that was cut down weeks ago and is now being prepared for next years crop. Or peas being harvested in a 24/7 operation. Or a combine harvester cutting down a field of barley.

These few weeks in the summer are the height of the farming year and a reminder as to why it is known as the Old Farm Derby when Town play City.

But agriculture has given more to East Anglia than a humorous name for a game between the regions two biggest teams.

It has changed all aspects of our lives. From how we talk, to who we are and what East Anglia looks like.

During university holidays I worked for a farmer who grew thatching straw. It was farming the old-fashioned way with wheat that came up to your chest, rather than your knee.

An old binder cut the straw and bundled it into shooves. The shooves are then stacked into shocks to help the straw dry fully before it can go in a barn.

Elsewhere in the country this is called stooking – but in Suffolk it is always known as shocking.

These shocks would have once been familiar sights throughout Norfolk and Suffolk.

The two counties are a patchwork of fields, criss-crossed by roads and rivers and studded with towns and villages.

Without farming there would be no fields, only forest.

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And without what the fields produced, Ipswich and Norwich would not have grown into what they have become.

Around 1300, wealth generated by wool from pastures around Norfolk made Norwich England’s second city.

Agriculture was so important to the local economy that a change in the laws governing who could graze their animals on common land was a key driver behind Robert Kett’s famous rebellion in 1549.

As well as angering current residents, changes in farming have brought new people to East Anglia.

In the late 19th century, farmers in this part of the world failed to adapt to new ways of working meaning cereal production slowed and became more difficult.

Scottish emigrants helped to get it going again and many of their descendants still farm in the east. Yet still the region attracts economic migrants to work the land.

It is clear farming has changed hugely over the years.

MORE: Rare 16th century Suffolk longhouse with a beautiful barn conversion goes up for sale for £1.4m

Farms have got bigger, and now employ fewer people. But still agriculture surrounds us and remains massively important to the economy in the East.

Ipswich Port is the one of the UK’s main exporters of agricultural produce. In the months following harvest last year, half a million tonnes of grain were exported through the port.

All of this grain has to make it from the field to the barn and then into a lorry before it makes its way on to a boat.

At least part of this journey will take place by tractor. And this – unfortunately – means it will be slow.

But for many farmers, these few weeks over harvest will dictate how successful their year was. Meaning they will work as many hours as the weather will let them to get crops in safely.

Harvest going off without a hitch can be the difference between a good year and a bad one for a farmer.

So, while roads may temporarily snarl up behind tractors and trailer as they move from field to field and combines will chunter away long into the night for a few weeks, it is important to remember that farming’s impacts are clear to see in East Anglia all year round – and not begrudge tractor drivers too much at this time of year.


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