19 DECEMBER 1987, Page 57

Know your oats

Sir: I enjoyed Paul Johnson's article about the misrepresentation of things rural in the Press, and agree with his conclusions.

The reason for this constant misrepre- sentation is that very few people know anything at all about the countryside. Even the exceptional Spectator writers make awful howlers when writing about or men- tioning agriculture or allied industries. This is sad, because everybody without excep- tion has to eat, and I consider that hardly anybody gives due consideration to the origins of their food, health food faddery and shock-horror nutrition 'experts' not- withstanding.

It may be of interest to give the results of a very informal poll that I conducted among a random selection of local people — I feel it is quite revealing. No farmers or farmworkers were included.

Question Correct Incorrect Don't know

(%) (%) (%) What is a steer?


What is a bullock?

80 20 What is a heifer? 10 80 10 Identify samples of:

Wheat 20 80

Barley 15 85

Oats 25 75

Name five broadleaved

cereal weeds

100 What is straw? 5 45 50 What is hay? 25 30 45 Name three major uses each of barley and wheat



Name five major (or minor) breeds of: Cattle 70 30 Sheep 5 95 Name five principal culti- vating machines 5 95 Name five alternative

arable cereals 100 There were plenty more, but the pattern is similar — a sad and often total lack of comprehension or knowledge about every- day agricultural basics, often even an inability to understand the questions.

So what, you may say? Well, not a lot, but so many people in the last ten years seem to have become agricultural 'experts' who (I think) would score no higher in the poll than those I approached. The country- side is principally a place of work (and of great delight and pleasure also, of course), and the inability to grasp that, rightly or wrongly, England's green and pleasant land is husbanded leads to the hideous distortions about farming and things rural that I constantly read (and choke over) in the press.

Tom Thatcher

Buxbury Farm, Sutton Mandeville, Salisbury, Wiltshire