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Metric musings

Shropshire-based producer and award-winning columnist Roger Evans laments the loss of imperial measurements, and admits he has at least one unpaid bill.

I didn’t vote for Brexit but, like a lot of things in life that you can’t do anything about, I sort of shrugged my shoulders and decided to make the best of it. If there were to be any advantages of leaving the EU I had hoped that one of them would be to see an end to our headlong pursuit towards all things metric. I am quite comfortable with kilogrammes and litres, but it is area measurements that irritate me. We still talk in miles, don’t we? When I write something I always express it in acres – and acres is OK with me. But my various editors all religiously convert acres to hectares.

We were discussing a crossword clue around the kitchen table the other day and I was trying to explain the concept of chains and furlongs to my grandsons. They were rolling their eyes so much that I gave up.

It’s a long time since I drilled a field with anything. About 20 years ago we started to grow cereals and we bought a proper drill and employed a proper tractor driver. He was quite comfortable with kilogrammes and hectares, and I used to pretend I was as well. I don’t know if he believed me – probably not.

It was my job to roll the seed, which as we all know is a much more skilful job. We used this ‘new’ drill to sow all our grass seed, and we used to drill two ways so there was better coverage. Before that I used to spread grass seeds with a Vicon pendulum fertiliser spreader. Remember those? Everyone had one.

I was also telling my grandsons about how I used to ‘step out’ an acre and put in an acre of seed (cue more eye rolling). Sometimes you got it right, sometimes you didn’t – it was a bit hit and miss. If you still had seed left you would sow that acre again so that it had the correct seed rate. But if all the seed was gone, you had to cut the drill down and the rest of the field didn’t get as much seed as it should.

Invariably you had to step out another acre, but you rarely did a third because by then you had had enough and you pressed on regardless. Sometimes you had to scour your sheds in order to find some leftover seed to finish the field. If you had made a big mistake you had to get some more seed from your merchant.

My point is that if you were working in hectares, the mistakes would have been so much bigger. I was never a great fan of reseeding here at home anyway. We always seemed to have more cows than acres, and our grazing ground was extremely precious to us.

In my experience the people who advocate regular reseeding are often those who are selling the grass seed. I remember that once I had to reseed a field and I decided to spray it off with Roundup first, using a contractor. I couldn’t wait to get ploughing and every day I used to look at this field and think to myself ‘that field is taking a long time to go brown’. Then I noticed that the next field was going brown – the contractor had sprayed the wrong field.

He was, and still is, a good friend. He had helped us here on the farm when he was still at school. The cheeky sod sent me a bill for the two fields, but I didn’t pay for the one. Out of the blue he phoned me earlier this month and said: “It’s a wet day so I thought I would go through all my unpaid bills. I found the bill for that field I sprayed by mistake. It was in pounds, shillings and pence.” Isn’t that where we started?

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