Appeal to step inside the Ring

Stoic, fierce independence is often seen as a trait of brave, rugged, determined men and women but in farming today what appears at first glance an admirable tendency to remain totally self-contained can change brave to foolhardy, rugged to wretched and determined to drained.

Joe Barrowman with farmers from Ridings Machinery Ring drilling fields at Hall Moor Farm, near Wiggington, York

There is a litany of distress on farms where pride, particularly in not seeking help, has been the roadblock to understanding that there are answers outside of your own farm gate.

Survival in agriculture, unless you own sufficient land and have enough old money behind you neither to sweat nor care, has never been more in the balance. The outcome of Brexit is sending shivers through the farming community over how it will affect our export trade in grain, lamb and other commodities.

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Prices while reasonably buoyant in the livestock sector are not currently of the same status in the grain sector. Milk is only just returning to a price where reinvestment can be considered.

Joe Barrowman of Barrowby Hall Farm in Garforth, near Leeds, and with land at Saxton, near Tadcaster, and Shipton by Beninbrough has been involved with the independent, farmer-owned co-operative Ridings Machinery Ring since its inception in 1993.

Its aim is for farmer members to benefit from the shared resources of farm machinery and labour and since starting it has also added the bulk purchase of oil, electricity and tyres to its roster.

Next week the European Machinery Rings Annual Conference will be held in York. It’s the first time since the federation began 25 years ago that it will have been held in England and Joe is as keen for it to provide increased awareness of Ridings Machinery Ring (RMR) to Yorkshire’s farmers as he is delighted to welcome devotees from countries throughout the mainland continent.

“We weren’t the first country, by a long way, to realise the benefits of pooling resources. Germany started theirs in 1958. Their main reason for doing so came from having been in a state of devastation after the Second World War.

“Their national machinery ring now handles a turnover of £2bn a year, they moved into new-build, state-of-the-art headquarters two years ago and have the ear of the German Minister of Agriculture.

“Austria has just celebrated its 40th year, Sweden and Scotland followed in the late 1980s. Scotland’s reason for getting under way came after successive terrible harvests leading to masses of debt.”

England and Wales have seven machinery rings with a membership of 5,089. The largest is in Wales with 1,500 members, but RMR at just over 170 members has still to convince the lion’s share of stoically independent Yorkshire men and women, who continue to carry an over-supply of farm machinery, that sharing is a good thing and not some kind of admission of failure nor an end to farming as they know it.

“Yorkshire is grossly over-combined. We could probably cut all the corn in the Ukraine with what we have in the county. Farmers who haven’t joined the ring often explain their reasoning for not doing so as all wanting the combine at the same time. This simply isn’t true. Firstly, the county’s land is so diverse over the times at which each area is ready to harvest, even the few miles from Thirsk to the top of Sutton Bank can lead to a two-week differential.

“Secondly, and the way I explain it is if you’re combining on your own farm you can only be in one field at a time. So if you’re in a machinery ring just consider you’re in a bigger farm and if the combine is not on your farm it is on somebody else’s, which is just another field.

“Thirdly, with the ring there will always be capacity, something you don’t have with an individual farm enterprise unless you’re a huge estate and we have some of those as members too.

“You can reduce machinery costs by getting rid of what you don’t need when hiring from others through the ring; share machines thereby cutting depreciation costs; and receive payments for your machines and labour. You’re also more than likely to get your jobs done quickly.”

Although our county’s farmers pride themselves on cutting the best deal with farm machinery outlets Joe finds a sometimes blind ignorance to the benefits of the ring bewildering.

“I don’t have to worry about repairs, diesel and other technicalities as the current ring chairman David Blacker, who will be speaking at the conference, handles all my arable work at Shipton.

“There have been reports farmers worry about their farms not looking good amongst their peers but for some reason they think using a machinery ring is a sign of failure when it can help so much. We all hope the increased awareness of Ridings Machinery Ring through next week’s conference will convince more Yorkshire farmers to join us.”