I’ve always been someone who speaks his mind – mainly because I’m not very diplomatic. I am also your classic hypocrite and hands-in-the-air guilty of the “he can give it, but he can’t take it” critique. I don’t choose to be that way, it’s just the way I’m wired.
In so admitting, I also have great respect for other people’s diplomatic skills. I watched in awe this week as a smooth-talking land agent convinced a grower to abandon the idea of oilseed rape in the rotation after three years of failure and four years of my trying to convince them of the same, obvious conclusion. I don’t mean smooth-talking in a manipulative or dishonest sense. The discussion was clear, logical and persuasive, something my own discourse was obviously lacking despite my direct approach.
What I was failing to appreciate was the owner’s reluctance to abandon something that has played such a familiar part in the farm’s aesthetic. The business argument against its continuance was blatant. The emotional attachment of the grower to the past and a fear of the future was not. I had failed to notice what the agent had, and this three-year rotational headache was solved in the space of a 15-minute Zoom call masterclass of tact.
In the same way I have a profound understanding of the value of the euphemism, but very little need to use them myself. In my mind, talking about difficult subjects through the filter of obtuse and flowery language is evidence of avoiding their confrontation. And if the subject is difficult, then avoiding it is unlikely to resolve it.
However, I am not so psychopathic to realise that for many people, softening the language around a difficult subject actually allows them to more easily confront it. This is evidenced by the sheer mass of euphemism surrounding the most difficult subject of all – death. Passing on, shuffling off, resting in peace, departed, slipping away might seem like someone is avoiding the subject, but of course there is no avoiding the subject by someone caught up in grief, it’s just their way of processing the situation. And that’s okay.
I used to chuckle at the beautifully distracting rewording of “pesticides” to “plant protection products (PPPs)”. As if the NGOs wouldn’t see through that one! But having recently completed training for the BASIS Plant Protection Award, I can appreciate the important shift in emphasis from an advocacy point of view. Rebranding from “bad” to “good” in order to discuss the subject with generally uninformed politicians and the general public, and explaining what PPPs are for in every mention, is a masterstroke. Albeit a slightly long-winded and tongue-twisted one
However, the danger here is that we are now using language for political gain rather than the far more innocent purpose of protecting other people’s feelings.
And so it was that my hackles were raised and my knuckles whitened when I read about a “min-till” trial that had taken place in Lincolnshire. The aerial photo showed a fleet of huge power units with similarly large cultivators turning stubble impressively brown with a single pass. The text revealed the min-tillers as combinations of legs, discs and presses that were working down to 200mm. At no point did the report question if this was genuinely minimal tillage or perhaps that the exercise could be more accurately described as maximum tillage but with minimum passes.
I have no problem with people cultivating their soils as they see fit, and the supposed intention of the trial was to reduce tillage from an intensive starting point. But I find it unhelpful and cynical to co-opt an important practice, that many growers are genuinely interested in finding out about, to describe something quite different.
As we move forward under a brand-new agricultural policy with support payments based around public money for public goods, it is essential that we bring the politicians and the public with us. This might involve some political correctness and some public relations-speak, but we must be honest about what we’re doing. If we’re not, we could see trust in the industry kick the euphemistic bucket.
First published in March 2021 edition of Agronomist and Arable Farmer magazine. To read the original article or to find out more, please visit www.aafarmer.co.uk”