Comment: Sociable side of farming pays off

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BEN PARKER is a fourth generation farmer who takes great pride in living and working on his family’s farm in Upper Poppleton just outside York. Here, he explains the challenges he, and many other farmers, are facing, as well as how being part of something bigger has proven invaluable.

The farm has changed a lot over the years, away from dairy and sheep production to over 500 acres of arable cropping.

I joined the business in 2010, after studying at Askham Bryan College. I also work for a local pig farm where we have an arrangement to swap straw for muck. This kind of agreement is hugely beneficial for both businesses and I believe that cooperation between local farms is the key to the long term future of family farms.

We also focus on keeping things simple in terms of crop production, keeping inputs low and maintaining a good yield.

The biggest challenge agriculture faces is the weather, however we can’t do a lot about that. World market price volatility is also an issue, but one that can be tackled by wise spending and investment and, where possible, forward buying and selling.

Being more efficient, future planning, expansion and embracing new ideas are vital; recent government tax changes will be a huge help.

If the government could do one thing to make our lives easier it would be to reduce red tape. Pesticide bans and regulations have a huge impact, especially as new products struggle to get through the trials process. Recent Common Agricultural Policy reform and the three crop rule have seen us having to change our cropping, and not for the better. One bonus of the scheme is an increase in game cover crops for shooting.

My biggest piece of advice to anyone starting out in the industry is, while qualifications are essential and there are lots of benefits of college and university, you learn most hands-on. Work experience is great for seeing different ideas and how they work for other people. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, everyone gets things wrong sometimes. Things are easily repaired.

My other piece of advice is to join Young Farmers and Future Farmers of Yorkshire. There is a lot of truth in the saying it’s not what you know but who you know; I’ve been a Young Farmer for over ten years.

There is so much to be gained from meeting like-minded people. There are competitions and travel opportunities such as the ski trip I went on this year. There is something for everyone and it’s really sociable too - I’m even told you might find a wife, but I’m still looking!

My message to the consumer is buy British and buy local. This supports, not just farmers, but local shops and businesses which are such an important part of our communities. The Fodder shop and café at the Great Yorkshire Showground is a great example of this. The power that the supermarkets have over producers is incredibly damaging to the industry.

Ben Parker is a member of Future Farmers of Yorkshire and also serves as chairman of the Ebor District of Young Farmers Clubs.

Future Farmers of Yorkshire was launched in November 2010 and is supported by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society. It brings together younger farmers, vets and industry supporters.