Robocrop

The farmer rises early (lots to do)
Eats breakfast, settles in his comfy chair,
Logs on to FarmCommand Pro (Version Two).
From deep within a datahub somewhere
Instructions are dispatched. Now on the screen
The big John Deere pops up: tasks verified,
The engine fires and, unmanned, the machine
Rolls off to work, with laser beams to guide
Its every move. The farmer nods. A wink
Of infra-red detectors in the shed
Tells him how much the calves have had to drink:
Another click, and all the beasts are fed.
New window. Scroll-down menu: highlight ‘Hive’.
Check status, scan for viruses, click ‘Run’.
A hum of minute motors and they’re live;
The day’s first wave of drone strikes has begun,
While through the whispering stems, unheard, unseen
More tiny workers fan across the land
As programmed, picking wheat and barley clean
Of pests and weeds too small for any hand.
And all the while, beyond the empty skies,
The sleepless satellites are on patrol
Like gangmasters with hard, all-seeing eyes,
Reporting ceaselessly to Ground Control
With data from each square inch of the fields.
The farmer smiles; he’s constantly on top
Of fertilisers, pests, projected yields
And profits from this season’s robocrop.
No senseless labour in the heartless sun;
No wasted effort; everything exact
And micro-managed, all resources run
For optimum production, based on fact
And real-time information – farms reduced
To mere facilities; a factory floor
Where food’s no longer grown, but just produced
According to a new, unnatural law.
So, with a robot made for every task,
Our mastery of Nature is complete.
There’s only one more question left to ask:
Is this the kind of food we want to eat?

 

On a long drive up the M40 last week, I listened to Costing the Earth on BBC Radio 4, which investigated how “satellite technology and advances in robotics are set to revolutionise the future of farming”. It was fascinating, but I have to say I also found it absolutely chilling – it seemed to be predicting the end of everything I know and love about farms, farming and the countryside. There’s a good deal wrong with current agricultural practices, of course, but if this is the answer, I’m not sure we’re asking all the right questions yet. N.

(NB There’s no such software as FarmCommand Pro Version Two. Or at least, not yet!)

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Night light

We sit and watch the candle burning down,
Its fleeting flame unsteady as the white
Wax turns to water, lapping at the light.

How long before we see it gasp and drown,
Abandoning us to the circling night?
We sit and watch the candle burning down.

And slowly, too, our dreams are overthrown;
Consumed by all that made them burn so bright.
Long miles from sleep, and yet too tired to fight,
We sit and watch the candle burning down.

 

Another Chaucerian rondel. My daughter (unwittingly) gave me the refrain line a few evenings ago, but it’s taken me until now to find the time to do something with it. N.

Following a hunch

Well, Crookback; here you are again. We’ve found
Your slight and poor remains, five hundred years
And more since Bosworth Field. No contrite tears
Were shed for you in England – and what ground
You lay in all that time: no royal bed
Or gilded tomb to pass eternity;
Just common clay, and for a century
We parked cars on your uncrowned, sword-hacked head.
But we’ve been led astray by Will, it seems,
Maligning you as monarch, and as man.
Your kingdom must recast you, if it can
From halt and hunchbacked monster of dark dreams.
Though now we look more kindly on your age
You’ll always be the villain on the stage.

 

The mortal remains of Richard III have been dug up in a car park in Leicester. Sometimes, this is a great country to live in. And while Shakespeare may have propogated rumours, half-truths and a good many outright whoppers about the last Plantagenet king (a sensible move for a playwright working under the Tudors) he did get one thing right in Hamlet: we all end up as dust, be we commoners or kings. N.