COLUMN: Weather Wise with Gordon Currie

How will the heavy rain affect this year's harvesting?
How will the heavy rain affect this year's harvesting?

Full many a race is lost

Ere ever a step is run,

And many a coward fails

Ere ever his work’s begun.

Think big, – and your deeds will

Grow, Think small, and you’ll fall

Behind

Think that you can – and you

Will . . . .

It’s all in the state of your

Mind!

With the devastating events of this year’s summer weather beginning to affect what could be termed the moral fibre of so many people’s lives, these simple words of encouragement offer a small measure of support at a time when our climate seems to be straying far beyond the parameters of extreme circumstances normally recognised within living memories.

In the countryside, rural dwellers share the feelings of fellow townspeople amid their despondencies of flooded homes and are becoming acutely aware of their strong affinities with the soil and its associated fortunes of the fields, especially upon this year’s apprehensive brink of harvest time.

‘sodden’

Already, July’s dispirited sodden days are casting immediate implications upon the agricultural scene. As far as farming weather records go, the greatest harvesting adversities occurred in 1879, 1912, 1927, 1946, 1963 and 1985.

In these quoted seasons I believe it would be quite conceivable that thoughts clung to the Biblical faith that “seedtime and harvest shall not fail”. These seasons are categorised in terms of practical difficulties getting the crops off the fields and not necessarily in terms of yields.

The immediate concerns arising from excessive rainfalls obviously relate to abnormally high water tables in the land, causing tremendous traction difficulties with the modern machinery in the fields, and ultimate long-term destruction of soil structure.

In short, the scale and magnification of harvest field mechanisation seems to be heading for greater problems with the ground conditions of our wettest summers.

It is interesting to note that there is a much deeper historical significance in the revolution of the mechanical harvest and its unfortunate clashes with inclement weather conditions.

The inventor of the first reaping machine in the north country was Mr John Common, who farmed at Denwick, in Northumberland. His machine was the original projector in the principle of the original harvest binder, widely used until the middle of the last century.

wet harvests

His invention was tried and tested in conspiratorial secrecy – “secretly in the middle of a broad moonlight night” – in early September 1811, obviously an opportunity of dryness in a year with a perilous harvest.

Surely, this remarkable feat of engineering against all odds with the weather gives valid reasoning to the quote: “Think that you can, and you will’’.

The sequel to this was that John Common gave the designs of his reaper to his trusted friend, Mr John Brown of Alnwick, an ironmonger, with the idea of constructing the reaper in wrought iron. However, his friend made a hasty passage to America, handing over the secret documents to an inventor, namely McCormack, resulting in the exhibition of the McCormack reaping machine in the Great Exhibition of 1851.

The year 1811 was the fifth in a consecutive series of six producing disastrously wet harvests between 1807 and 1812. The spring of 1811 had been warm and sunny following a severe winter, but unseasonably cold and windy weather damaged the wheat crops at the time of ear emergence in midsummer, followed by ensuing storms of rain and wind throughout July, August and September, with just a short opportunist break for harvesting in early September, although the task was not completed until late November.

‘pack of hounds’

Climatically in that second decade of the 19th century, Britain was still struggling through the ‘Little Ice Age’ years which spanned the period 1500 until 1850.

Infamously, the year 1816 was described as the year without a summer. No doubt many people will be thinking that history is on the point of repeating itself!

In spite of current events, do not pre-judge the season, it is far too early to write off this summer altogether. Admittedly, the advocates of climate change (note the diplomatic switch of expression from global warming! ) are resembling a pack of hounds in full cry – this really is their moment!

‘potholes’

Yet unconvincingly, their theoretical landscape of debate remains full of potholes. The case of July’s weather is just one simple example, when climatologists began to notice a dramatic warming trend in the month’s temperature figures in the latter part of the last century, not to mention an equally startling decline in rainfall averages.

As July scorched its way through the mid 1990s, the future die for British summers was well and truly cast, – heat and drought.

However, since 1997, excitement has faded, July has well and truly bucked the supposed trend, with mounting rainfalls and cooler temperatures, with the exception of 2003 and 2006.

Perhaps the modern theorists should accept the fact that the weather will never be an exact science and concentrate their studies on Nature’s way of restoring balances.

Richard Jefferies’ observations of harvest-time merciful redemption beneath the brilliantly cloudless skies of September 1879 spoke volumes when he wrote ,“ The sun shone in a cloudless sky, and agriculture appeared suddenly to shake off a long, unwholesome torpor”.

PROPECTS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD

Saint Swithin’s blue skies last Sunday may have promoted an element of legendary hope with the weather situation, and with high pressure now beginning to occupy an area to the south-west of the British Isles, stretching across towards France, there is now a tendency for the Atlantic low pressure systems to move from mid-Atlantic on a more north-easterly tracking, introducing more mobile westerly conditions, although their associated fronts will still move across the country, being more active across the North and weaker further south.

Still rather unsettled, with some occasional rain or showers, but our region should benefit from westerly or south-westerly winds giving sunshine advantages eastwards from the Pennines across the Vale of York. Temperatures seasonal normal, 66 - 68 F (19-20 C) but becoming warmer as the week proceeds.