Necessity, it is often said, is the mother of invention. This has been the case for farming families over many decades as they have sought to create greater income so sons and daughters can be part of the farm business later in life.
While there are those not born into farming families who think all offspring should go off and get a job elsewhere and create their own income, it’s sometimes not as simple as that.
There are rules and regulations attached to farm succession on tenant farms that mean the son or daughter needs to be seen working on the farm before taking it on when the parent retires or expires. Inheritance tax to be paid on owned farms can sometimes see the new generation having to sell off acreage to pay the tax bill; and then there’s the unseen pressure of not letting the side down by being unable to carry on.
Robin Clarkson of Bondcroft Farm on the edge of the village of Embsay, is one of those for whom his own necessity has brought about great personal fulfilment, rather than having to face up to any whistle being blown on the farm’s time. He has the tenancy of the 180 acres at Bondcroft that he and his wife Elaine took on from his parents two years ago. He also runs a garage providing service, repairs, MOT testing and sales, and is the North of England’s leading off-road racing driver.
“My father, Robert, known to everybody around here as Bobby, came here 51 years ago from a little farm near Addingham. He brought his pedigree dairy herd and at one time we were milking 50 cows and had around 400 breeding ewes. I did a lot of milking and went to Craven College to study agriculture but the farm wasn’t big enough for us all as I was growing up. We came out of milk in 1992 but before then I’d found work as a mechanic and in agricultural contracting. I’d worked for Jake Wright in Burley-in-Wharfedale servicing Land Rovers for five years before coming back to set up my own garage here in 1989.
“My mum, Christine, had set up a bed and breakfast accommodation business in the mid-80s and there’s been a long-term saying that we had three businesses up here and the worst of them was farming.
“Today it’s the garage that forms our biggest income, followed by the bed and breakfast and finally the farm. I don’t dislike farming but I’m very busy with the garage where I employ three mechanics and a lady in the office. At the moment the only livestock we have on the farm is sheep and we have a flock of around 250 breeding ewes that are split evenly between Swaledales and Mules.
“Lambing starts in the middle of March and is all conducted inside a polytunnel that we’ve had for 15 years. We start with the Mules. Our fat lambs go to Skipton market and we also breed our own replacements.”
Robin has plans to increase the flock to 350-400 breeding ewes in the future and is looking to start buying store cattle. The motivation for increasing the farm’s stocking level comes because Robin and Elaine’s daughter Becca is starting to take over the daily work on the farm having completed her studies at Craven College. Bobby continues to help. Robin’s other farming interest at present is having some cattle again.
“I quite fancy Blue Greys as they will suit the land at the top. We’re basically a farm that has land types of either rock or bog and it is mostly steep hill land but with a couple of flattish fields at the bottom.
“The garage work has changed quite a bit from when I started. I used to work mainly on Land Rover Defenders but as the farming side of the business has gone quieter I’ve been dealing more with models such as Discovery and Range Rover Sport owned by town people. I still get farmer customers and we cover all 4x4s. We also sell vehicles too. Quite a few farmers have gone on to Japanese manufactured pickups.
“About 12 years ago a friend of mine moved to New Zealand and I bought his quad business. I started out with repairs and service. We are now main dealers for Suzuki.”
Robin’s racing career has seen him win the Northern Off-Road Club Championship for the past two years and his Warrior team, racing cars designed and built by him has earned him plaudits. Ironically his worst accident was when he broke his thumb sledging.
Elaine was born and brought up in Ilkley. She has two businesses that she runs from the farm as well as an interesting musical hobby.
“Robin and I met while watching and listening to a local band called Chainsaw playing songs by ZZ Top. Living here on the edge of the Dales and Barden Moor is beautiful and that’s what our visitors come for. I’ve taken it on from Robin’s mum who built up a really good trade. We get Australians, Americans, Canadians, Germans, people from everywhere.
“I also have a business providing embroidery for workwear and teamwear.
“I play in a samba band called Loud Minority. We’re desperate for a new teacher and new members. It’s all drums, shakers and whistles and is Brazilian carnival street music. We play at Grassington Festival and last year we played in Skipton for the Grand Départ.
“Please get in touch with me if you know of anyone who can help or would like to join us.”