Farm of the Week: East Yorkshire enterprise of cattle and crops at water's edge

When the Sat Nav tells you that the address you're heading for is surrounded by water you might scratch your head and wonder about your destination, but the 500-acre Sandhall Farm isn't too difficult to locate, even though it is tucked away in the far western corner of the East Riding where the Aire & Calder Navigation meets the curve of the River Ouse.

Tom Platt, pictured at Sand Hall Farm, Skelton, near Howden. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

It’s a bulbous portion of fertile land that Tom Platt farms as part of a family partnership that sees his parents William and Mary and brother Chris farming two other farms in Womersley and Hensall.

Goole sits just across the river from Tom but his nearest hamlet is Skelton, a mile away from the farmhouse.

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I last visited the farm over 20 years ago when Neville Thompson was farm manager. The farm was a marvellous example of how parkland, woodland and arable fields worked well together.

Tom’s family bought the farm around five years ago and he moved into the farmhouse in 2013 where he now lives with his girlfriend Laura Brunyard.

“Neville put such a lot into this farm but since he retired it has changed hands a few times. I’m now trying to get it back to his high standards.

“The heavy warp silt is good crop growing land and this year we have 150 acres of winter feed wheat in the ground; we also have 150 acres of peas that we grow for the Green Pea Company for Bird’s Eye, we prepare the land and they drill it; and 60 acres of potatoes, growing packing varieties.

“Across our three farms we grow around 300 acres of potatoes destined for all kinds of markets including McCain’s. I also undertake a little bit of potato contracting work.

“Our crop rotation sees potatoes grown every seven or eight years per field. I’ve just finished planting this year’s crop. Other years we will also grow oilseed rape here, but this year we’re giving it a miss at Sandhall even though we’re growing it on the other two farms.”

Cattle form the other mainspring of the Platts’ farming operation with a suckler herd of just under 300 spread across the three farms.

“We have a mix of Limousins, Blondes, Simmentals and Hereford X cows and we bull them all. We don’t use AI. At present we have a couple of Limousin bulls and a couple of Aberdeen Angus bulls we’ve recently added.

“One of the main reasons we took on this farm was the parkland, allowing us far more space for grazing as we were getting a bit stretched. We’ve just turned them out about three weeks ago. They’ll come back in when we’ve finished lifting the spuds in autumn.

“We were also fortunate because of the excellent cattle buildings that Neville had been responsible for previously. All progeny from the cows is marketed at Selby Livestock Auction Mart on Wednesday each week.”

Tom’s background, as well as being a farmer’s son, is in farm machinery engineering. He studied for four years at Brooksby College in Melton Mowbray and worked for Ripon Farm Services before joining the family partnership.

“It’s proved well worth having taken that route as we save a fortune on repairs and maintenance of tractors and other farm equipment. We run quite a few tractors of all manufacturers’ models and a Claas Lexion combine harvester and time spent on those by trained mechanics would cost us dearly.”

The prospect of receiving massive bills for farm machinery work may be one nightmare that Tom has managed to alleviate a little, but he was faced with a real fright within days of moving to Sandhall Farm.

“Days after I moved in the River Ouse flooded the land for the first time in 60 years. I’d come home around 7pm and was just about to feed the cattle. Ged, the gamekeeper, rang and we were talking about the sucklers when I said I’d have to go because I thought the river was coming over.

“By the time I’d taken a look it was doing just that. I turned the car to check on another part of the river, put my lights on full beam as it was dark and all I could see was water everywhere coming towards me. I tried to turn the car but the water was pushing me so I put it in reverse.

“Having parked up I managed to get some silage bales to stop the water getting into the cattle sheds, but by the time I’d done that the water was over my car bonnet. Fortunately the house is built on slightly higher land and although some got into the cellar we were okay.”

Tom will be hoping that the nearest anyone gets to being wet on his farm will be in one of the fun competitions next Saturday when the East Riding Federation of Young Farmers Clubs hosts its county rally at Sandhall Farm.

“I was a member of Doncaster YFC at one time, which is part of the Yorkshire Federation and I was approached by the organiser of this year’s East Riding rally Katie Dale to see whether they could come here.

“It should be a great day and I understand Neville and Sylvia will be guests too.”

While Sandhall Farm isn’t the most isolated farm in Yorkshire by a long way, for a 28-year old farmer who enjoys a night out it can prove expensive.

“There’s no pub in Skelton. If Laura and I want to go out for a meal and somewhere with a bit of atmosphere we’re about half an hour away. It can be a costly taxi night, but this farm is fantastic and like I said we’re trying to get it back to how it used to be.”

Tom’s sister Sophie is well known in eventing circles and her most recent international event saw her placed 10th on Be Be III at Chatsworth.

Tom is also quick to pass praise elsewhere across the farm.

“I must mention Julie (Birkinshaw). Julie is the one who makes sure that everything ticks across all three farms. She keeps us all on the right track and has been a great family friend for many years.”