We meet in a cold farm machinery shed. He’s wearing a woolly hat. It’s pummelling down with rain beating away merrily on the roof.
Despite the world we live in today, filled with gizmos, go-pros and gadgets, there’s still much in farming that stays the same – a life that has to be conducted in all weathers and requiring similar headgear for centuries, regardless of fashion and despite how much we are affected by climate change.
Paul Irish, of Yaud House Head Farm, Eavestone between Sawley and Brimham Rocks is, like many before him, undeterred by such trivialities as gallons of wet stuff falling from the sky although it has to be said his maize-leading activity has been somewhat deferred by the current inclemency.
He’s still smiling regardless as he is living the life he planned and was recently honoured for his endeavours. Paul was the recipient of this year’s Yorkshire Post Rural Award as Young Farmer of the Year at The Pavilions of Harrogate last month. He’s very much a man on a mission and has been since he left Pateley Bridge School at 16, having grown up around farming – his dad worked on his cousins’ farm at Menwith Hill crossroads.
‘‘I knew the only way to get into buying a farm, or one of the ways, was to have my own tackle to start with and use it to earn money so that at least if I did get chance to rent or buy a place I would have the machinery to do my own work.
"I’d started working as part of Ray Skelton’s horticultural contracting team at High Birstwith, gang mowing on their tractors, but I’d also bought my own tractor, a Ford 7840 to set myself up.’’
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Together with his friend Chris Stobbs, the teenage Paul purchased an umbilical system to carry out slurry work. It was to be the start of their combined C&P Contracting business that was to see them work in unison until 2012.
‘‘As long as I got my mowing work done at Ray Skelton’s, I could go off and undertake the slurry jobs with Chris. We gradually added more and more work, which got to the point where I was off more than I was there. That’s when I left and committed myself full-time to contracting. By this time we had bought a baler and other kit, plus we were using Chris’s brother’s trailed forager.’
Agricultural contracting work was to provide Paul’s main income from then until today. He and Chris purchased round and square balers as well as bale wrappers which added another sector to their existing slurry work. They were going much further afield when they started.
‘‘We began working miles away. That way we weren’t taking work from the local contractors. We would travel as far as Hull for our umbilical business, often setting off at 3am as we couldn’t use motorways and could only travel up to 25mph.”
Paul’s ultimate desire to get his own place saw he and Chris go their separate ways seven years ago.
‘‘We had got to the point where the business had grown to the level that I was never at home or didn’t have any time to pursue my goal of farming in my own right. I realised the only way I was going to be able to afford to do it was to sell my half of the farm machinery we had between us, so I sold my half back to Chris.
"Once I’d done that, I went out and bought a tractor, tanker and mower to carry on with a few bits, plus carrying on with the work I’d been doing for local farmer Martin Atkinson, who I still work for today at his farm at Bishop Thornton where I run most of my tackle and where Christy does some relief milking.”
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Three years ago, Paul and his wife Christy bought 36 acres of Yaud House Head Farm’s 72 acres and rented the remainder. The farmhouse is also theirs, but they currently live near Pateley Bridge with their five-year old son Robert.
Paul’s aim of 13 years ago has been achieved and he’s working towards his long-term goal of farming becoming his main income.
‘‘My contracting business is still my biggest earner. I now have two John Deere tractors and a Valtra as well as a Major slurry tanker, front and back Krone mowers, Lely tedder and five-furrow plough, but I’m on with preparing another shed so that we can take on more pigs on bed and breakfast for Ian Mosey and I’d like to get a shed up for my own cattle and bed and breakfasting others for neighbouring farmers.
“We have 320 pigs on at the moment and I’d like to get to between 1,000 and 2,000. We get them at 40 kilos and take them through to finishing. I worked with pigs when I was growing up and although the contracting is paying for the spot and enabling us to put up more sheds my idea is that if I get enough pigs we will be able to pay the farm mortgage without me contracting perhaps as much.
"Since we’ve been here I’ve had a neighbouring farmer’s cattle grazing and last year I had 40 Aberdeen Angus calves I bought from Martin Atkinson. I sold 20 as stores at Ruswarp livestock mart. I bought another 15 cattle, all about a year old, earlier this year from Richard Umpleby of Killinghall. I was going to take them through to finishing in the spring but may let them go as stores.’
‘‘Pigs on bed and breakfast are good because you don’t have to have a lot of money of your own in them. I prefer having the more mature pigs rather than weaners as I’d have to check on them more often during the day and I’m not here to do that, although my dad, Keith, who is now retired, comes over to help out. As well as growing the pig numbers, I’d like to get some of my own arable land to grow some corn as well as finish my own cattle.’’
It’s easy to see why Paul received his Rural Award. He’s a young farmer with not just spirit and determination, but also enterprise and enthusiasm. On top of that he has always had direction, an aim. He’s never wavered either – and with Christy working for her father’s Heathfield Caravan Park and for the AONB they are well acquainted with holiday accommodation and see that as another form of future income.
They are seeking to explore further the planning permission on the farm’s barns that they are hoping will eventually lead to providing holiday lets