Changes in farming
Updated: Aug 22, 2021
I grew up on a farm in North Yorkshire, something people often find very interesting. My hidden talent (if you want to call it that) is all things lambing and that always gets people asking questions too.
My childhood was very wholesome as a result of these surroundings, but I think that’s partly because of the type of person I am, and the years it coincided with. Now kids are always on social media and gaming rather than being out and about.
The health and safety awareness has also increased too. We used to play on the bales, go fishing in the beck (stream for southerners) and go on lots of bike rides. But then you start to grow out of that and suddenly you resent the fact you live 10 minutes from any other houses, nevermind friends.
All things considered though, I loved growing up on a farm and still love returning to help with lambing if I can. I was back a couple of months ago to help for a week. No matter how old I get, and apparently how far south I move, I still return to help because although it is exhausting, I love it.
The reality of farming is the hard work though. People see the farmhouse and rolling hills on a sunny day and suspect it’s very idyllic, but the work that goes into managing a family farm is something that cannot be ignored, and something that is dying out due to the changing way farms are run.
I’m not going into the ins and outs of Brexit here and what that means for farming, but I will look into the changing nature of the farming industry and what that means for my dad’s farm in the years to come.
When dad was growing up on the farm there were a number of men working there to keep things ticking over and it was a very social environment. Now it’s just dad to do everything and he gets contractors in from time to time to help with the big jobs like harvest.
There also used to be a much more community feel around the family farms in the area. Dad said there used to be many more farms around us but now we’re one of the only family farms left in our area because the bigger, more industrial units are taking over.
There used to be a village show on our land (that field is now called ‘the show field’ because of this) but now modern life has taken over and little events like this just don’t happen anymore because they’re not economically viable and instead people just flock to the bigger shows like The Yorkshire Show. .
Technology is another big reason for these changes. Machinery is SO EXPENSIVE which means that small farms just cannot compete with the bigger sites. The machinery means bigger yields which means bigger profits, but you need to be able to fork out the money to pay for the machinery in the first place. It also means people aren’t needed as much, making farming a much more isolated industry and people move away to find work in the towns and cities instead.
With these developments also comes things like driverless tractors and drones to monitor crops – technology that small farms simply cannot afford so will eventually just disappear because they can’t match up to the cost of the changing industry.
The use of chemicals and pesticides are also increasing to improve crop yields but then comes the argument of the impact that has on the wildlife and also the popularity of organic products from the consumer. This is all well and good for the consumer to want and is something I see as quite fashionable, but the reality for the farmer often means lower yield, lower profits, and more work because you’re relying on traditional techniques like crop rotation and spreading manure as a fertiliser. As a result, the bigger units are the ones that can afford to meet consumer demands for organic produce, not the smaller family farms.
The Fens in East Anglia is a big spot for commercial arable farming because of the land types making it great for growing crops. These conditions mean that many farms there are operating on a large scale and smaller farms struggle to keep going. Eventually the small farms will just die out because it’s not worth it anymore.
Often smaller farms are needing to diversify to keep going, something common in the Fens. This means branching out to make money in other ways like farm shops and cafes, camp sites and holiday lets, and offering outdoor activities. This all results in an increase in tourism too so adds to the economy in other ways.
My point from looking into this is that the landscape of farming is going to look very different in the future. I suspect that many family farms will have sold up and bigger industrial farms will be the only way forward. It is a sad thought, but I feel lucky I got to experience the traditional farm whilst growing up, I just wonder what my kids, and then
consequently their kids, will
see of farming in their generations.