Comment: Hands-on experience is essential

Young handlers are the future of the farming industry.
Young handlers are the future of the farming industry.
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DURING A 50-year career in farming John Jessop has seen his industry change dramatically and his agricultural operations have had to be adapted in order to survive. Ahead of Countryside Live next weekend where he will help judge young handlers classes, he explains how he made a success of his business.

My story on the 250-acre farm I call home in Carthorpe, near Bedale started when I was born there in 1949. I’m the third generation, having taken custody of the land from my uncle George Robinson under whose name we still trade. I’ve worked there since leaving school at 16 and today the farm is a mix of arable and sheep.

This year I’m delighted to be judging the beef young handler classes at Countryside Live, the Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s autumn event at the Great Yorkshire Showground on October 17-18. This event is close to my heart and is important for the future of our livestock industry.

Showing cattle has been a key part of my life since the late-1970s and I’m now head steward for the Aberdeen Angus cattle section at the Great Yorkshire and am frequently asked to judge at local shows.

It’s so important for young farmers to get hands-on experience with livestock and gain an understanding of the dedication and skill required in husbandry.

During my years in farming I’ve seen much change, from hand-hoeing sugar beet and cab-less tractors in the 1960s, to GPS driven machinery and electronic ID tags today.

The farm used to employ four full-time men, plus seasonal labour, but today I farm it on my own with help from my son and specialist contractors for certain jobs. It’s a familiar story of mechanisation and efficiency driving relative food prices down and, in turn, requiring more efficiency to survive. But we adapt and keep working.

We have diversified a little in that I haul buildings all over Yorkshire and beyond for my sons’ business, Yorkshire Steel Buildings.

We started a pedigree herd of Limousin cattle in 1979 and were one of the first farms in the North to do so. We saw potential in this new continental breed, in terms of conformation and growth rates, which we hadn’t previously seen in the native breeds we were keeping. We started with two cows and built up to a 40-cow herd over the next 10-15 years. It led to us winning the North Eastern Limousin Breeders Club Herd Competition twice and we sold two home-bred bulls to the Milk Marketing Board, now Genus.

Showing our cattle was a natural progression. We attended up to 15 shows a year in the 1980s and 1990s. It was a wonderful shop window for selling our breeding stock and there’s no greater pleasure than winning your class with an animal you’ve bred yourself and nurtured.

I always encouraged my son to get involved with the cattle, from halter training them in the winter to selecting show stock and preparing and showing them.

My best piece of advice for a young farmer starting out would be, respect and learn from the past but embrace and adapt for the future. And come and see those young handlers at Countryside Live – they are the future of our great farming industry.

Mr Jessop is a member of the Future Farmers of Yorkshire group.