Sunday, March 01, 2009

The daffodil pickers

click photo to enlarge
I was raised in the Yorkshire Dales of the north-west of England, an area of hills, mountains and valleys. On these uplands the agriculture consisted mainly of sheep, hay and a few beef or milk cattle. In the valleys the mix was similar, but cattle were more numerous. During the last few decades of the twentieth century, in response to market prices and, perhaps, global warming, some intrepid farmers with better land tried root crops, maize and cereals. However, for the most part, the farming of recent years in that area of Yorkshire hasn't been drastically different from what it was a hundred years earlier. With one exception - the number of agricultural workers was significantly fewer, and those that remained were, on average, much older. Many farms were worked by one, two or at most, three people - often a husband and wife with one of their offspring.

When I moved to Lincolnshire, I found the situation as far as manpower is concerned, to be very similar. A couple of people often run quite large cereal farms. Where vegetables are grown, there may be three or four permanent workers with contract labour brought in as required. In the Dales the number of agricultural workers you see in fields is few all year round, but in Lincolnshire higher numbers are evident when vegetables are planted and harvested. In both areas it is mechanisation that has made the difference: Dales farmers can travel the uplands and transport animals much quicker than formerly, whilst the soil preparation, planting, tending and harvesting in eastern England is now done, to a very great extent, by machine. However, some tasks have remained resistant to mechanisation, and I came across one of them yesterday as I drove along the road at Cowbit near Spalding, Lincolnshire.

Rounding a bend I came upon a field with about seventy people bent double, harvesting daffodils. The regular rows of flowers didn't have a single bloom showing, but many carried buds that would soon open. The workers were selecting suitable stalks, bundling them in tens with elastic bands, and boxing them ready for collection, distribution and sale. I stopped and took a few shots of the activity, and reflected that scenes like this, that have continued down the decades, may one day also succumb to the machine - a device that can judge which flowers to pick, which to leave, that knows how to bundle them, and that doesn't get a bad back in the process or lament the seasonal nature of the work or the level of remuneration.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 150mm (300mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/160 seconds
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On