Brian Henderson on what's in his pick-up – and how much Scotch is in whisky?

I reckon there’s a lot you can tell about harvest time from the contents of the farm pick-up. Having read one of those ‘how you know you’re driving a farm pick-up’ pieces in some other (lesser) farming magazine which lists some of the typical contents lying either on the dashboard, in the cubby holes, or even in the tub at the back (apparently a dead ewe is an almost compulsory addition…) I didn’t quite buy it. I was going to say that’s because the contents of these vehicles tend to change depending not only on what type of a farmer you are and what enterprises you’re involved in, but also on the season and time of year.

But being completely honest here, you might have a bit of a job deciding if you had a look into my truck – as a lot of the content tends to live there on a permanent basis. As with the archaeological filing system which I utilise on my office desk, it’s more a case of what lies closest to the top that gives the best idea of what’s been happening on the farm in recent weeks. So, a quick eyeball of the pick-up would currently reveal that, at the moment, the refueling station which is mandatory during harvest when the combine is out and about has been joined in the tub by a number of items which logic might dictate are a deal less seasonal.

This includes as a selection of spades and shovels, a set of draining rods, a collection of heavy duty recovery straps complete with shackles, a full set of waterproofs and a spare pair of wellies. So the ramifications of the sort of weather which most of Scotland has been enjoying over the recent weeks, during which we should have been sailing on with harvest, can be surmised by the presence of these items. If that wasn’t enough to alert anyone to the biblical flood-like conditions of recent weeks, then some of the larger lumps of driftwood collected from the middle of fields, which saw burns swell into rivers running across them, might have given the game away.

Inside the cab itself lurks the usual paraphernalia of a farm vehicle – and the hi-vis jackets, the bunjee cords, some miscellaneous nuts, bolts and washers, an assortment of broken electric fence poles, a three-quarters drive socket set, a five-litre container of sheep wormer, some feed bags, a half empty bottle of antibiotics and selected syringes, plus torches with flat batteries jostle with the harvest additions. Shifting between the passenger seat and the footwell of the truck, depending on how many of the team have piled into it on its most recent run, lie the various portable moisture meters which are quicker to use than trekking a sample back to the grain store and which supplement the combine’s own read-out on the rare occasions it has had the opportunity to take to the fields – although, obviously, we tend to believe the one which gives the lowest reading. Just in case anyone keeked in the truck when it was sitting at one of the roadside fields earlier this week, in my own defence I would like to point out that the cluster of whisky bottles which spent the day down the side of the driver’s seat, regardless of how tempting they might have been, were actually birthday gifts given to my son.

But as well as all the things which do tend to have an actual function, there are other fixtures – both in the pick-up and in the combine cab which might be there for less logical reasons. I caught a programme on the radio a week or two back which devoted a whole half hour to the surprisingly widespread set of the superstitions which are held by the country’s elite sportsman and women – and saw a few similarities with our own endeavours. While I wouldn’t admit to having a pair of lucky socks (or pants!) as some of our athletes seem to do to ensure top performance, there are some items which might err more on the talismanic rather than the functional side that seem to have become lodged in the combine cab to ensure a good days cutting.

Although, the ‘in case of emergencies’ fire extinguishers might seem to be a bit of an extravagance in the current weather – an oxygen tank, flippers and snorkel would seeming more appropriate – I did feel slightly nervous when, on one of the rare days we did actually managed to get some cutting done, the fire extinguisher man arrived to conduct the annual service and inspection. They were only off the combine for one round of the field, but I did find myself feeling slightly nervous without their reassuring presence at the cab door and up beside the engine. I would be struggling, however, to attach a similar degree of real relevance to the can of Irn-Bru which has been sitting in the combine’s fridge compartment for many years.

Though, while I might, in extremis, consider eating the well-out-of-date chocolate biscuit which has been living in the bag of ‘useful things’ living on the cab floor, I did draw the line at holding on to the year-old ham sandwich which I found when servicing the combine earlier in the year. On a different tack altogether, though, a recent re-watching of Francis Ford Coppola’s anti-war film, ‘Apocalypse now’, had me mentally conjuring up one of the key lines in the film last week: “Your mission is terminate the colonel’s command – terminate with extreme prejudice …”

Though the film views some of the weirder episodes of the Vietnam war through the eyes of an American soldier given this task of assassinating a US colonel who had gone rogue, I had a feeling that similarly dark thoughts were passing through the minds of many in the industry when the news came out that one of the big drinks companies had imported a boat load of malting barley from Sweden.

It was reported that the shipment was of high enzyme barley which we don’t grow here – and that the company involved was working with Scottish merchants to see if they could match the specification to allow it to be purchased at home – the move came as a bit of a slap in the face, coinciding as it did with a harvest stalled by bad weather and a super-abundance of the stuff waiting to be cut.

But with the vast majority of what we grow still wending its way into the drinks trade, maybe it’s not yet time to shift from taking a contract with a maltster to taking a contract out on one!

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