When John Seymour’s granddaughter, Kate, won at last year’s Stokesley Show the man who is this year’s show president, while delighted over a family success, admits to having raised an eyebrow over the category.
“Dad had champion Friesian bull in 1952 and I showed our Friesians winning at the Great Yorkshire Show, but Kate’s win was for tallest thistle. As an efficient arable farmer would you want to win that one?” John says, with a wry grin.
“Stokesley Show has been a big part of our family’s life as it is for everyone in the area. It’s the benchmark of the end of summer and the beginning of autumn and winter. On the farm have we got harvest finished? Are all the straw bales in? As a young child for me it was all about the show and the fair that isn’t part of the show but always takes up the main street in Stokesley at the same time. It was all magical for a young boy.
“I recall my early days of showing, leading cattle around and we still have a photograph of our daughters Hannah and Rosie holding a cow. Everyone looks forward to the show and has done for generations.
“It is an amazing thing to be part of the camaraderie that comes from the enthusiasm of all the volunteers. Everyone has their own niche and is so good at their bit.
“It’s only when you become president that you realise how it all meshes together.”
Decades as cattle commentator
John’s show niche has been as cattle commentator for 40 of the 45 years since he became a cattle steward.
“I got involved as a competitor first of all and was then asked to become a cattle steward. Having done it five years the cattle commentator didn’t turn up and the chief steward handed me the microphone and because I was involved with the NFU I had the confidence to do it. I finished up doing the main ring commentary on the grand parade as well, until last year when I assisted Bernard Liddle as I was then president-elect.
“My father, Norman, was never involved with the show in a stewarding capacity. He’d been very active with the NFU, building up the farm and was very keen on his pedigree British Friesian herd.
“He was very involved with a cooperative and John Moffat over the importation of bulls from Holland in 1950. There were some very famous bulls imported at that time.”
Norman Seymour moved from County Durham to White House Farm, Stokesley, in 1947 when he was awarded the tenancy from John Page Sowerby who was a descendent of the original show president.
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Today, John farms with son, Tom, at Dromonby Farm, Kirkby in Cleveland that runs to around 850 acres and features 600 acres of arable cropping, cattle bought in as stores and sheep bought as gimmer lambs and sold as shearlings.
“Our cropping includes wheat, barley, oilseed rape and new last year naked oats. Our land ranges from best quality sandy loam on the River Leven to grade three heavy stuff on the Cleveland Hills. We have had a wonderful crop of wheat this harvest.
“We grow the variety Gleam and we’ve averaged just short of 4.5 tonnes per acre. We’ve never averaged four tonnes before.
“We were really worried before harvest because of the storms and quite a bit had lodged but thanks to Andrew Gloag’s combines, we work with Andrew quite a bit, it picked it up.
“Our barley varieties are Funky, new this year, and hybrid variety Bazooka.
“It’s all feed wheat and feed barley. Naked oats is an interesting break crop and we are growing on contract with Armstrong Richardson for pet food. It’s also useful for blackgrass control.
“The rest of the farm is largely down to grass and we graze our bought-in stores from suckler bred and dairy bred herds with a view to selling some at Darlington livestock market and others destined for supermarkets.
“We try to utilise the grass we have and that determines the numbers but currently we run to around 400-head.
“Our sheep have historically mainly been Mules but we have increasingly gone towards Texel X. Our sheep trade in buying and selling is nearly all private trade.”
A move from dairy
John left dairy farming in 2002 having moved from Friesians to Holsteins, but having seen what he describes as the writing on the wall.
“We were milking cows for nothing. There now isn’t a single dairy farm left in Stokesley parish where there would have been at least 50 years ago. I sold up when milk quotas had a value. It helped us buy Dromonby Farm.
“We now have three fishing ponds and run a green waste composting business.
“We take all the green bins from the Hambleton District area around Stokesley and Great Ayton. It’s what is called trying to provide a local solution to local problems.”
These diversification ideas came through John’s NFU involvement.
“Dad was county chairman for North Riding and Durham NFU and I also became chairman. I seemed to naturally follow on. It was never a conscious decision to do so. I became chairman of Stokesley branch, then county, then regional board and finished up as a council delegate in London.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it and became chairman of the national parliamentary Land Use & Environmental Committee. It gave me a first hand insight into diversification and the stuff we were talking about nationally I used at home.”
160th Stokesley Show
John is looking forward very much to next Saturday’s 160th Stokesley Show in his role as president.
“This will be the first year I will have been able to go around and see the rest of the show. When you’re a cattle steward or cattle commentator that’s all you have time for. You can’t do anything else.
“I’ve never been in the flower tent or handicraft tent before in all my last 45 years at the show.
“Maybe I’ll find the class for the tallest thistle.”
One of the highlights of Stokesley is the Interbreed Dairy championship, which is still conducted with each judge raising scores in the air similar to Strictly Come Dancing.
John was also a talented rugby union prop forward in his younger years.
John is married to Caroline who has had a tremendous career in local politics with Hambleton Council and North Yorkshire County Council. Sadly, Caroline, who is fighting a tough battle with her health currently will not be at John’s side on show day.