HEAD forester Emyr Lloyd hailed from Dolgellau in North Wales, so the South Wales Valleys were an alien environment for him. Apart from his dental problems, he was meticulous in his approach to work.

Our principal product was pit wood, which had to be stacked by hand in a wide range of size classes. In Margam Forest they were always immaculate. Emyr’s office was in the Afan Valley, at the village of Pontrhydyfen, and shared this distinction with the actor, Richard Burton, who was born there. When Burton brought the spectacular Elizabeth Taylor to visit his family, all the girls from the office turned out to cheer and wave little Welsh flags. I asked Emyr about it.

“Yes, yes, I saw them. Oh, lovely teeth he has, that Richard Burton,” was his lasting impression of the glamorous pair.

I recalled this from the deeper recesses of memory when reading about the country’s richest man, vacuum cleaner magnate Sir James Dyson, who, I read, is also a stickler for tidiness. His farming empire threatens to bring UK farming into the 21st century with all kinds of new technology, new approaches, new crops, and a new super-efficient management style.

Well, you’d expect a man who made his remarkable fortune out of dust to make sure that any roads or tracks around the farm were swept clean, wouldn’t you? I used to visit one of his Lincolnshire estates when it was in a previous ownership. Now it has extensive loading and storage areas in the shape of vast areas of concrete, a far cry from my contact’s muddy stacks of sugar beet and carrots. I can’t help wondering if all this forward thinking could be a little badly timed. Climate change is proposing a far less intensive future for the farming industry, and one which, we have been told many times, will introduce extensive areas of forest into our currently open landscape.

But sadly, Sir James has little time for trees. He doesn’t want to afforest his grade-one agricultural land just for carbon management, and reports that in Scotland, when you see trees being felled, it looks like a moonscape afterwards. “It’s bleak,” he claims. “I am not keen on forestry and I don’t like pines.”

But he wants to plant oak and lime, would you believe, not sycamore, or ash, nor cedar of Lebanon, but he does like beech. He is vague on the issue of native species, but then aren’t we all? Topically, he doesn’t like badgers or otters. Otters did for his fish in his Singapore base, and are not forgiven.

You have to admire Sir James, though, don’t you? His foray into farming has the clean, efficient and futuristic style which has characterised his past research and his global success with his varying products. From this, he has branched out not just into agriculture but into education (38 per cent of his farm employees have degrees), robotics, drones to map the fertility of his fields, and all kinds of other innovative thinking. But for such a man to say flatly that he doesn’t like forestry comes as a bit of a shock. If he can bring his formidable expertise into farming, what could he do in the timber industry, and in forestry?

In the glory days of the seventies, I would go into panelled boardrooms to tell business leaders and financial wizards how to make forestry work for them. So, so often some captain of industry would get a faraway look in his eye, and tell me how he wanted, as a young man, to become a farmer, but his father had made him study economics or law or some other occupation. I slightly recognise this in Sir James, but as so often in his life story, he had the courage of his convictions and took the opportunities life, and vacuum cleaners, has presented to him. At an entirely different level, I am thankful to him as the owner of two bearded collies, whose hair fills our Dyson vacuum on a daily basis. How did we ever manage before?

It would be more than good to convert Sir James to the paths of wisdom, wouldn’t it? We should invite him to a day out to show him how it really works. Any volunteers?

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