With little or no rain here between July 1 and September 16, it was the most amazing harvest weather for many years.

There are always two sides to the story where farming is concerned and it does mean that very little of the oilseed rape sown in Essex has survived but, as the dreaded flea beetle ate any plants which did emerge, there was always going to be a dramatic reduction in the crop coming to harvest next year. That’s bad news for farmers and bad news for bees.

As an alternative this year we grew a large area of linseed, a crop with hugely versatile uses.

It is an edible source of Omega-3 “fish oil”, it is used as a base for paints or a seed topping for bread rolls.

The greatest problem is disposing of linseed straw, which is wiry and tough and difficult to bale although it has enormous calorific value.

It is now the only crop residue that farmers are allowed to burn, but many of the public have forgotten the days when almost all straw was burnt and of course as soon as we lit the first heap of linseed this year the fire engines arrived.

Standing in the field with a pitch fork, a box of matches and a wet bag, with a bowser standing by, brought back a lot of September memories.

I quote from a diary 30 years ago: “As the flames leapt higher they created their own breeze. It blew in from all directions and further fanned the flames, sucking in more and more air, taking the heat skywards. Soon, it became an immense spiral, taking smoke and soot thousands of feet into the clear blue sky. Then, unbelievably, there was a loud crack of thunder. I had combined with nature to create my own little cumulonimbus cloud to join about twenty others over the Essex countryside. Minutes later the fire was out, the sun was shining, the air was still and it was time for me to move to the next field.”

There was no doubt that stubble burning was an unsocial practice and one couldn’t blame the public in calling for legislation.

There had been accidents and to those not involved the sight of a large fire could be frightening.

Gradually the laws were tightened and it became illegal to burn stubble at weekends or on public holidays.

This further restricted the safe days to burn fields when conditions were perfect and other parts of the new legislation actually made the practice even more risky in my view.

The soot and smut which had been carried high up into the atmosphere caused nuisance with black smuts ruining some new tuxedos in a Coggeshall store and spoiling the chrysanthemums in a Marks Tey nursery.

These incidents and the declining importance of farming led to an almost total ban on straw and stubble burning in 1993.

So why did farmers burn so much straw in the 1970s and 80s? Fire is nature’s own way of rejuvenating an area, as can be seen when a devastating heath or forest fire stimulates dormant seeds to germinate.

In arable fields a good burn stimulated blackgrass and other weeds to emerge and these could then be easily destroyed by subsequent cultivations, rather than chemicals.

Cultivation techniques were also cheaper and simpler in the absence of straw and stubble.

There was nothing to bury, no hiding place for slugs, and the soil seemed more friable.

Today, much more powerful machines pulverise straw into tiny pieces which can be incorporated back into the soil and we manage without burning.

That means less stress for us and the public but more use of pesticides and higher cultivation costs. You can’t win ’em all!