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Something is happening in British Farming which is so unmentionable and so unbelievable that nobody has yet mentioned it and if they, did, nobody would believe it. Only the readers of this column, I like to think, are grown-up enough for the truth, which appears here today for the first time anywhere.

The repeated use of chemicals and pesticides has turned many fields in Britain into drug addicts.

I’ll say that again, just in case you didn’t grasp it the first time round: farmers have put so many chemical additives on their fields that in many cases the fields have become addicted to the chemicals and cannot operate without them.

This information came to me in a top secret memo from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Well, most information these days is passed around in the form of highly confidential memos leaked to the press –I get 20 or 30 a day and normally usually use them as scrap paper – but this one seemed slightly different, so I got in touch immediately with Dr Vernon Barley, a leading farming psychiatrist. He confirmed that it was true.

‘You mean, fields can actually show signs of drug addiction?’ I asked him.

‘Why not?’ he said. ‘All these chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, and everything are only drugs by other names. They give fields a big buzz. But you have to keep increasing the dose to get the same effect from a field year after year, and by that time your field is a junky.

‘I’ll give you an example. I’m dealing with a large field in Northamptonshire at the moment – let’s call it Ten Acre Meadow, though that’s not its real name – which has been on massive amounts of a certain chemical for eight years and has now totally freaked out. It refuses to grow any more crops in meaningful quantities and just sits around pushing up grass all day. Basically, it’s hallucinating.’

‘How do you mean, hallucinating?’

‘It’s got delusions of grandeur. It thinks it’s Hyde Park,’

Such delusions are, apparently, quite common. Dr Barley has another field in his care which thinks it is the reincarnation of the Woodstock Festival, and he has come across others which thought they were Bosworth Field, the Field of the Cloth of Gold and some corner of a foreign field. But very often they are too far gone even to have delusions and are just burnt-out wrecks.

‘The symptoms tend to vary from town to country. A junky urban field tends to have unsightly bits of concrete, clapped out cars, old bus shelters, lots of rosebay-willow-herb. An addicted rural field is more likely to have abandoned agricultural machinery, old horse jumps, and uncontrolled bramble growth.

‘But even then you can’t be sure, because addicts sometimes get very cunning and lead a double life. Ostensibly they might be just getting on with producing quotas of wheat, but all the time they are craving for more and more fixes of their favourite pesticide. Nobody can lie better than a junky field.’

Dr Barley says that most of East Anglia is now hopelessly addicted, but that there are cases all over the country. His treatment involves taking the field gently out of agriculture and into some other activity like forestry, tourism, theme parks or rock festivals, where commercial chemicals present no temptation. He is delighted that Government policy is now following him.

‘You can’t really blame the fields for this drug problem. It’s the farmers and the Government who have been the dealers and drug pushers, persuading fields to take higher and higher doses of the filthy stuff. Now at last the Government is beginning to see the error of its ways and is using forestry and so on as a rehabilitation treatment.

‘The trouble is that even when you get a field off drugs, the stuff is still around in its system for years to come. An organic field which has previously been on chemicals is really a junky underneath; one sack of chemical fertilizer and it would be off again.’

Anyone who thinks he know a field with problems is advised to get in touch immediately with Fields Anonymous, or to contact Dr Barley’s organisation, Meadowcare. If it’s a field which has recently shed a hedgerow or let a public right of way get overgrown, it almost certainly has problems. Act now before it is too late. There is nothing worse than a field that thinks it can handle its drug problems.

The Independent 1988


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© Caroline Kington