Alex James: Farmers go at it all guns blazing

Rural Notebook
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The Independent Online

I've spent the entire morning – plus a couple of evenings over the past week or so – going through the longlist of candidates for the BBC's "Farmer of the Year 2009". My fellow judges and I need to agree on three finalists from a pile of nominations as fat as the Yellow Pages.

It's quite difficult separating the outstanding from the merely brilliant, but an utterly delightful process, none the less. I used to spend a lot of time thinking about women. I don't do that any more. Now, in idle moments, I seem to think about fields, usually my own. I turn them over in my mind and fantasise about them. It's probably the same for anyone who lives on a farm.

What is certain is that there is absolutely nothing quite so interesting to someone who lives on a farm as other farms. In life, anything you're interested in, doesn't matter what it is, you've just got to go at it, all guns blazing. There is no better advice than that. What has been filling me with mirth since I began to wade through all these contenders is that every single one on the list has clearly followed that principle, stuck to it, and emerged victorious.

Every one of them has found a vocation, and the countless warm recommendations from their happy customers and fans warms the heart. There are people who have made patient and thorough studies of everything from apples to zebu, pictured. There are crusading organic ladies and biodynamic billionaires, community farmers, pig freaks, worm nerds, grass junkies and even somebody who is trying his hand at crocodiles – he was my favourite for a while, but then, right near the bottom of the stack, there appeared to be someone who has invented a new kind of cow. And a land-based fish farm (sea bass) on an urban, brown-field site. Surely the ultimate triumph of hope. Doing very well, too, by the looks of things. Why, I wonder, would anyone want to be famous when they could be farmers?

Demolition woman

Daphne who helps with my garden fantasies came and we walked around the yard again, deciding what to demolish. It's always refreshing to spend an hour doing this with Daphne. She's another dynamo, a sprite granny. One cowshed, two old haybarns and a lean-to have got to go.

Demolishing things is the ultimate expression of freedom in many ways. I lie awake at night dreaming of bulldozers. I can't wait.

Smashing pumpkins

I'm ready with my cider barrels but there are not many apples this year. I think fewer than ever before. It may have something to do with the children climbing the trees. Not so many apples, but on the other hand the pumpkins are huge, like pretend ones. How can this be? There's certainly a lot to think about.

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