'Jeremy Clarkson is the one person have done most for farmers' says Yorkshire contractor

When Guy Shelby smashed his shoulder playing rugby for Driffield at the end of last season he had no idea that the bashing he was going to take in his farming life would extend his pain for the next nine months.

“I have a great family support network that I couldn’t do without. They are fantastic. My wife will tell you that this has probably, mentally, been the hardest year of my life. There have been days when I didn’t want to get out of bed. I’ve 30 acres of rape left of 260 acres we’d sown. I’ve been able to drill 310 acres of wheat out of 865 acres planned. Every day I’d be looking out of my bedroom window at water.

“I hate that saying about farming ‘it’s a way of life, not a job’. What gets me down is we work like slaves and don’t really have anything to show for it. Yes, I’ve got a nice farm, but I don’t make a lot of money. I know many farmers appear to be rich people. I am asset rich, but there’s the old saying asset rich, cash poor.”

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Guy gets on with life, he doesn’t usually talk this way, but his feelings are wholly indicative of the way the weather, along with other compromising factors, has played a significant role in the harm done to all farmers’ wellbeing, particularly since September.

Guy Shelby of Benningholme Grange farm. Picture Bruce RollinsonGuy Shelby of Benningholme Grange farm. Picture Bruce Rollinson
Guy Shelby of Benningholme Grange farm. Picture Bruce Rollinson

“I won’t lie, I have struggled to cope. Like most blokes will say, when they’re asked if they are alright, I will say yeah, but if I’m asked am I really alright, the answer’s probably no. I’m fortunate I have family and friends, support from other farmers, and I’m very good at going to the pub, but there are a lot that don’t have that support network.

“Hopefully the weather will pick up, we’ll get into this summer and draw a line under it, but it does break you, the weather having been relentless, and you don’t feel valued.

“We’re going into a General Election. I haven’t seen anything yet about what any politician is going to do for farming. We are literally the bottom rung of the ladder, people are more bothered about how many followers they’ve got on social media than the person that grows the stuff that keeps them alive.

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"Jeremy Clarkson is the one person who has done most for farming recently, highlighting that for something like a loaf of bread that’s bought for £1.40 we get just 14 pence – and it’s us that take all the risk.

Dave Shelby and shorthorns. Picture Bruce RollinsonDave Shelby and shorthorns. Picture Bruce Rollinson
Dave Shelby and shorthorns. Picture Bruce Rollinson

“We get attacked about everything. If you actually look at grass-fed beef and grass-fed lamb it’s probably the best source of protein that’s good for the climate out there, but if you hear the media we’re the scum of the earth and poisoning the rivers. I like my job, enjoy what I do, but sometimes it just beats the hell out of you.”

Guy farms alongside his father Chris and brother David at Benningholme Grange near Skirlaugh in East Yorkshire, tenanted from the Crown’s Swine Estate, running to around 1400 acres, where the family moved to in 1995 having had a previous Crown tenancy in Nottinghamshire on the Bingham Estate from 1984-95. Prior to that the family is from the Bedale area.

“We also now have Benninghome Hall that we took on six years ago,” says Guy. “We farm them the two together, me, my brother and dad, having the tenancy for both holdings.

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Dave is on the livestock side and will work on the arable if need be, and vice versa. I do the arable and contracting. He has 700-800 Romney ewes and rents some grassland off-farm at Withernwick. We’ve always been a mixed arable and livestock operation and we’ve always had pigs; we also now have a Beef Shorthorn herd of around 45 sucklers.

“I’ve always been a contractor. I started contract shearing sheep with my uncle Simon, my mum’s brother, when I was 14. Until I was thirty, I sheared every summer and I did three seasons shearing in New Zealand working for contractors, including driving foragers, balers and mowers. That gave me the bug on the machinery side. When I came back home we went down the contracting route as well as our own arable work.”

The past nine months’ weather will see Guy with a vastly reduced crop, possibly reduced yield on the acreage that has survived and less contracting work with other farms having been similarly affected.

“We’d normally have arable cropping over 1,200-1,300 acres growing feed wheat, oilseed rape, spring barley, beans, peas, but this hasn’t been a normal year. I’ve Graham, Dawsum and Tapestry wheat varieties in but at a vastly reduced acreage, but the rape crop was devastated, every time we went to drill, it literally got washed out of the field, it rained that hard.”

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And Guy is certainly interested in maintaining and bettering his soil profile.

“Our land type is mostly fairly heavy, but we don’t rely on the plough massively, we try to use it in the rotation, no more than one in five or six. It still has a place, but we are now into quite a bit of direct drilling and min-till.”

Life as an agricultural contractor certainly wasn’t easy last back end.

‘You’re always trying to do your best for everyone. With our land and contracting we operate across about 2500 acres across mainly four farms, and some one-off jobs. I’m always after more work. I’m a sucker for never saying no. We are mainly stubble to stubble contractors with some contract farming.”

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Guy says that it has become false economy running older kit.

“We run a modern fleet because I don’t want to be spending money fixing machines, so when they break down I just ring the dealers and say can you send me another one because I need to keep going.”

Guy says the Beef Shorthorn herd is the latest new livestock enterprise on the farm.

“When Dave came home after being farm manager on Cirencester University’s farm we switched from Luings to Beef Shorthorns because our uncle, who has a smallholding in Leicestershire had them and we’d always quite liked them. They are low input as they are all on grassland near Holderness Drain. They calve in March inside and Dave sells as stores into Dunswell Market, which we make a point of supporting with sheep also.

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“We don’t finish the Shorthorns as yet, as we haven’t the facilities, but we are getting a good price for these stores that are only grass fed, and they are starting to become a core part of the business.

“We’ve played around with a lot of sheep breeds but the New Zealand Romney has proved the best. We stick them outside, they’re low intensity and we get a good price for store lambs.

“Our pigs are on a B&B contract with Cranswick now and we have 950 from growers to bacon, all straw based.”

Guy is married to Bryony who is from Flinton. They were both members of Skirlaugh YFC and have a daughter, Poppy and son, Ben. David is married to Rhiannon and they have a son, Fynn.

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