How the Kemps make a success of running 2 farms - 50 miles apart

There are not too many family farming enterprises that can benefit from life on the urban fringe and yet also the beauty of the rural idyll, fewer again that have the capacity to make it work between two farms 50 miles apart.

Joe Kemp checking a giant pumpkin at West lane End farm, Horsforth. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

In common with many farms that have seen additional acreage acquired this would never have been in an original masterplan, but with two young men keen to develop what their father took on there are many positives in how the whole farm business is fast developing.

Rory Kemp grew up at Springfield Farm in Horsforth where his father David had built up a dairy herd from 32 cows to 125. The Holstein Friesians are a long time gone and Springfield is now home to livery stables that Rory rents out, an ever increasing PYO business started back in 1984 that is predominantly strawberries in the summer and for the next six days all about pumpkins.

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Having farmed all his life in the West Riding it was to be a chance meeting with a farmer he had worked for over two harvests in North Yorkshire that led to the acquisition of Glebe Farm at Barton le Street in 1997.

Rory and Diane Kemp at Pasture farm, Barton Le Street with some of their turkeys. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

Rory now farms across 1,100 acres between both farms with 790 owned acres and the rest contract farmed. His sons, Joe and Will, have now joined him alongside his wife, Diane, daughter of Jack Penny in Rawdon.

Glebe had always been a purely arable concern, but recently there has been a massive growth in the Kemps’ suckler herd and there is an aspiring PYO business too.

“My grandfather, Joe Kemp, owned a small farm and a business called Yorkshire Egg Producers in Drighlington and managed to acquire my dad a tenancy of what was originally 60 acres at Springfield in 1953. Dad always wanted to be a dairy farmer and I followed him into the business. I’d studied at Askham Bryan College, as he had too, and when I left I answered an advertisement wanting a student for harvest. I worked for Gerry Abbey here at Glebe over two seasons.

“It had become difficult farming on the urban fringe at Hosrforth for quite a number of reasons and when dad retired in 1991 my initial idea had been to take the cows to another farm. I came to ask Gerry’s advice about buying a farm in this area and three days later he agreed to sell me Glebe.

Will Kermp at Pasture farm, Barton Le Street with some of their Stabiliser cattle. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

“Glebe Farm was wholly arable and bigger than I really wanted. I’d always milked cows but I didn’t feel the investment needed in a new parlour was worthwhile so we sold the cows and our milk quota. I remember having paid 68p per litre for additional milk quota and had made it known if it was ever worth it again I would sell it. It was selling the quota that gave us the opportunity to buy this place. I’d been a dairy man all my life, but I received my last milk cheque for 26.45ppl on May 10, 1996.”

Twenty-three years on and with Joe, 26, and Will, 23, both having returned from university Rory and Diane’s two-farm, 50 miles apart, business is now moving into overdrive with several new ventures alongside the existing arable farm acreage at Barton le Street and the PYO at Horsforth.

“We grow a combination of winter wheat, spring barley, oilseed rape, spring beans and oats. We harvested around 300 plus acres of winter wheat this year using the varieties Claire that has always suited our land types, Revelation and Gleam. We averaged around 3.75 tonnes per acre.

“My father died in 2012. We brought his remaining 30 suckler cows over here. We put land down to grass to combat blackgrass and now have 200 acres of grassland. Since Will came home we have been growing the suckler herd. It now runs to around 170 cows that will be calving next year. We currently have just short of 50 calving this autumn.”

“It’s mainly a Stabiliser herd,” says Will. “I worked on a farm in Oxford on a placement year out of university where they had them and they work for us. I now have three Stabiliser bulls and an Angus. We have some Limousin X and Simmental X from the original cattle, but most are Stabilisers or Stabiliser X.

“We’ve been keeping the heifers to increase the herd with the bulls having been kept entire until now, but as we are probably going to sell more as stores at York Auction Centre in future we are moving to castrating them.”

While everyone across the two farms, including long-time farm worker Richard Ribbons at Horsforth, can turn their hands to everything Will is known as the cattle man today, with his brother, Joe, the arable and horticultural man.

“Joe is currently spending a lot of time at Horsforth,” says Rory. “Our PYO has always been popular and although we moved into all kinds of soft fruit at one time, we now concentrate mostly on strawberries. They make up 85 per cent of what we grow for summer, with raspberries making up the rest.”

This is where the urban fringe becomes a positive for the Kemps who now sell strawberries, raspberries and for the next six days pumpkins, with turkeys and new for this year Christmas trees for the coming season.

“The strawberries and now the pumpkins, that Joe started with last year, make it a family day out. Families like coming to pick strawberries or to select from over 26,000 pumpkins planted this year.

“We run family rides on a tractor and trailer for the pumpkin picking. We have our own home raised beefburgers available along with teas and coffees and an area for pumpkin carving. It’s another cheap day out.

“We have 200 free range Bronze turkeys that we take across to our PYO customers on December 23. We pride ourselves on all our birds being fully mature and we only keep turkey hens as we think they are tastier. We will also be selling Christmas trees there too, all from a Yorkshire grower.”

Countryside stewardship schemes including lowering fertiliser inputs and a new take on expanding the strawberry season, plus a fledgling flock of Welsh Mules all add to this bustling farming operation.