Don't pity the farmer, writes Stephen Hugh-Jones. Silly subsidies and a high demand for grain has made some rather lucky lately--particularly if they are harvesting the unnattractive oilseed plant. All well and good, until it springs up in the field next door...
Three yards from the windows of my house lie acres of what looks like a nice green English field. On the nice green, a huge flock of wood-pigeons is pecking for food. I've little time for pigeons, usually: the London variety spend their lives endlessly strutting, or being strutted, around, or occasionally taking off en masse, like an avian Luftwaffe, to defecate on the city's public buildings, cars and pedestrians such as me. But this flock of country pigeons, I wish more power to their beaks. Because what they're pecking at are the young leaves of oilseed rape. And the more they eat now, the less in two months' time, I reckon--no doubt naively--there'll be.
So what's wrong with oilseed rape (canola, in North American)? For a start, its colour: green now, it produces flowers of a glaring, almost unnatural, yellow. Come May-June, the West Sussex countryside will be chequered with them. Second, its pollen stinks. Third, and I admit that this is a peculiarity of my household, though not of it alone, my wife is deeply allergic to that pollen. And by the way, green or yellow, the stuff isn't English at all: most farmers round here would barely have heard of it 20 years ago.
In sum, the scientist who can genetically modify oilseed rape into a scentless version, with flowers of some muted tint, gets my nomination for a Nobel prize. But of course that's not the poor plant's fault. Nor do I blame any farmer for planting it. He's in business, and these days it makes him very good money. What I dislike (and symbolise, however unfairly, with the two words "oilseed rape") are the conditions that surround his money-making.