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Nowt but a fleeting thing: a young farmer’s fight for survival

Nowt but a fleeting thing: a young farmer’s fight for survival


We’ll get a crack on and get them tied up and then we’ll get a cup of tea, yeah? Yeah. I’m nowhere near as hard a man as Dad is. I’ve got nowhere near his work ethic. When it’s as intense as running a dairy,
an old-fashioned dairy, it’s too much,
it’s too much for a 72-year-old. I think if he doesn’t stop at some point,
some injury will befall him, or some illness which will force him to stop,
one way or another. People do hang on until
they’re in their old age because maybe their retirement
options aren’t that good, and they would actually rather
keep on farming and keel over in the yard. And does that happen? Yeah, I know of two neighbours of my dad’s
who kept on farming and keeled over in the yard, yeah. Literally. I knew from a very young age
that I wanted to farm. Came here in 1972,
55 upwards years. It is a long time. But you wonder where it’s gone,
where all that time has gone, looking back. Yeah. You don’t get excited about thinking
you’re going to make money anymore because I think you realise that by about 12 months
after you started farming or something but nevertheless, you keep trying. Most farmers are younger than me now
and so they aren’t quite like me in as much as I’m probably one
of the last generation who has come and farmed without another job and without me wife going out to work
to a job and brought me family up and survived off what this farm and what subsidy payments
has brought in through that door. And I’ve managed. Retiring off the amount of money
that you accumulate in stock and machinery certainly isn’t enough
to buy a house and retire off. I think you should be entitled
to something like that. The hours that people put in are really long. The animals are there all the time,
and you have to be there all the time, or someone has to be. And so yeah, I would say,
pretty much across the board, people aren’t rewarded with the adequate amount of money for the amount of labour that they put in. I think it goes beyond fiscal poverty and
into sort of cultural and social poverty to a certain extent. I mean, there’s quite a high suicide
rate among farmers and there’s probably quite an uncharted
mental health problem among farmers because they tend to be
from more conservative backgrounds and aren’t so keen to talk about problems. This is where the problems start to come in. Everybody gets old, everybody leaves home
bar the youngest one and suddenly he’s on his blinking own, looking round, peeping round, doing all the
work that all these other people used to be there to help with and the money just isn’t there to get help
from anywhere, if there is any help to get. And it’s just work, work, work, work work. There’s no interest if, shall we say England
are playing Brazil in World Cup, there’s no interest. Brexit, piss off. Everything in the red is what’s around them. The cows, the sheep, the dog and work,
and this has got to be done and work, work, work and that’s an angle that’s wrong. There should be some way
of stopping that happening. The trouble with working on your own,
like you don’t have enough hands. If Adam wanted to farm and,
as you know he’s more wanted to do it organically and do it Adam’s way, with
conservation grazing, what he is trying to achieve now, I think there’s a niche there
for someone to do it, and he could be the one. Anybody looking at me and Helen with 20 sheep and a few lambs and kind of pottering
about isn’t going to take us seriously. But then you know, we’re not
really expecting them to, like I say, it’s a first step. We’re experimenting with ourselves
apart from anything else, kind of see whether we make the grade. I’m questioning my own actions
all the time because actually it turns out it’s quite difficult to be
a sustainable farmer. It’s not the easy road. What happened? I think I can put my hand on my heart
that it probably would have gone better without you. We’re definitely still learning. We’re one year on with the sheep. There is so much to know about the land
and looking after it and how the sheep will work on it and ultimately be able to
produce something that we’re proud of. I wanted to be a farmer when I was nine. Then I wanted to be a florist. So I guess I’m farming flowers. In my teens what I wanted to do was read books
and play the drums, so no, I didn’t see myself being a farmer, I couldn’t wait to get away. Life’s not linear. A lot of my personal happiness
is from working outside. I’ve always gone back to the farm. It’s just always felt like home. I’m trying to get myself into a position
where I have a farm and that’s the basis for my life. What we’re doing with the sheep
is enhancing or trying to enhance the diversity of wildlife. If people want wildlife
and diverse countryside then supporting your nature-friendly farmers,
that’s what people need to be doing. You don’t really switch off. I wake up at night thinking about
what’s happening, what we could be doing. It’s really really hard work but you’re
just out in it, connected to it. It’s really easy to write it off as
an idealistic life but it’s hard but you realise that you’re working on something
so it feels worthwhile. Why wouldn’t you want to do it? It bothers me that if you want to produce
food to high kind of environmental standards, you have to sell it for a price
that reflects its quality and therefore you’re immediately
cutting out people who can’t afford, or don’t think
they can afford quality stuff. And, I mean, that’s institutional. That’s an attitude that people have,
is that quality stuff is for somebody else, so you know, it just, I hate having to have
to put a message behind food, because at the end of the day,
food is just food and you should really value it but surely we should do that inherently
without having to dress it up in nice packaging and say, oh, it’s organic and vegan
and visit us at fake fucking Instagram. Can you hand me something to build
with? It’s hard work. We’ve made a living but … it’s a way of life that you’re brought up into. You don’t do it for money
really, so there you go. Did you ever think Adam would be a farmer? I didn’t really think he was showing
all that much interest. Even though he was helping me,
I never really thought of him being anything more than an academic, I guess. But yet, he loved his sport
and he loved hills and everything. Did you want him to be a farmer? No. No, I don’t think I did. Down, down now, woah,
woah, up a bit. Right. It’s on. Yeah, so, the tree’s kind
of in the way but that’s Gummer’s How over there and my dad grew up this side of Gummer’s
How, and our place, where we are now is just this side
of this little hill here. This is Yewbarrow, so we’re kind of
a stone’s throw that way really. It’s cool, and actually the other reserve
that I’m going to be renting is a piece of land that my grandad rented back in the day
so kind of like, yeah, there’s connections there
which, I’ve not tried to cultivate them deliberately, but it’s great, it’s really cool to be
taking on a bit of land that my grandad had once. For different reasons but, you know,
hopefully I wont make a mess of it. I’ve got roots that I can’t seem
to get away from, even though I’ve tried, because the experience of life on
a farm is quite intense. You find yourself in some unusual
places at unusual times. There’s grace in that, even if it’s like
a horrible wet night and you’re trying to lamb sheep, it’s really, I don’t know,
it’s another level of living. I’ve found and made and had the opportunity
to make that what I do for my work, so why wouldn’t I do that? And this is one way
that’s fairly true to me that I can you know, make a little bit of difference
to the state of wildlife hopefully for the positive.

38 thoughts on “Nowt but a fleeting thing: a young farmer’s fight for survival”

  1. Oh pull the other one, he kills his animals for profit; the agriculture industry is falling to pieces; America's largest dairy producer has just filed for bankruptcy and you better believe that in 10 years all these fine folksy peeps will be in that same damn boat.

  2. Great people and beautiful farm but if they are not profitable or they did not save for their retirement that is solely their problem and they can’t force the rest of us to finance their farm and their life. Sell the farm and move on.

  3. 11:15 what he says (from here) here is very true. But people are waking up to this. Farm shops are poping up all over the place (well here in Kent England) and the food looks excellent. Me and my gf went to one in southfleet and it was really nice. The vegetables where huge they had fresh & frozen meats , eggs and local honey etc. My gf goes to others and says they're great.

  4. I was talking to someone about his families farm and how not even a hundred years ago the farm would have the whole village working in harvest season. Now harvest can be done with 2 or 3 people. Keep in mind this is a ten thousand acre farm

  5. People have gotten too used to the cheap prices of factory farmed meats and animal products. Now people expect to eat meat every day cheaply when that's just not viable

  6. Certainly a way of life.All consuming. Not for sissies! Perhaps eventually we'll reach a point where we just have a series of mega sized industrial farms across the country and any kind of smaller set ups just won't stand a chance.

  7. I grew up in this kind of environment, sometimes milking by hand and having some trouble getting to school. My mother's partner still runs a small hill farm (about 40 acres in the Yorkshire Pennines), making about 8000 pounds a year – mostly lamb; wool and milk have no value unless the scale is huge. Obviously he works other jobs (at 67).

  8. Farming is one of the small number of industries where the buyer dictates the price to the seller. If the seller can't make a profit, then that's the seller's problem. That will only carry so far, once the seller goes out of business, and enough farms collapse, then we will be in trouble.

  9. So what…..after exploiting the world of farmers UK farmers are now feeling what is like to suffer in the fields. I hope nobody suffers but let's remember those in Congo who mine by hands

  10. I guess people in the comments see what they want to see. What about the hard working cows that have no choice but to be artificially inseminated, carry a calf for months and then when it's born have it taken away within days to be shot (male) or sold into the same fate as her mum. After 4 or 5 years of this the animal is "spent" and sent to slaughter despite having a natural lifespan of some 20 years. Most of her life she will have been pregnant and suffered from being separated from her calf as well as likely suffering from mastitus, lameness or any number of issues in her short, hard life.

    It may be better than the intensive alternative but it's still far from idyllic for these poor animals.

  11. I recall on the Sunday after the Referendum Farage goading Tim Farron that he should be celebrating the fact that with Brexit the British Housewife will now be able to buy cheap priced and enjoy succulent New Zealand Lamb and rich creamy New Zealand butter, let alone USA Big Agriculture. Obviously Farage had no idea that Farrons Westmorland and Lonsdale constituency included people like this!!!! These will people will be the causalities of Brexit and USA trade deal. As Mogg said the EU is a protection racket, what he failed to point out is that it actually protects EU Farmers, business and workers.

  12. Part of the answer is for us as consumers to change our habits. We need to eat a lot less meat, and spend the money saved on supporting local farmers like this.

  13. What lovely, decent and dignified people. I've known small farmers for most of my life, and
    I've never known one that wasn't committed to his land and his beasts.

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