Pick your own breaths life into the solitary nature of farming

WIMBLEDON IS upon us and that means it must be strawberry season. It certainly is at Yorkshire’s most easterly soft fruit producer where Eastfield Farm Strawberries at Hollym near Withernsea has built quite a following over the last 10 years.

Willow, aged four, strawberry picking at Eastfield Farm, Hollym, Withernsea. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

Harold Jobling runs the farm with his wife Heather, his brother Peter and son-in-law Jonathan, known as Joni. The farm runs to just short of 450 acres and has been in the family since Harold’s grandfather on his mum’s side, Percy Smith came here around 100 years ago.

“It’s a typical arable farm of this area,” says Harold. “We grow wheat, barley and oilseed rape. In recent years we’ve also started growing miscanthus that goes to Drax.

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“We’ve developed other small sources of income and the strawberry harvest is one of those, grown over an acre and a half. It fits in well as the picking time is in a nice slot just before we start harvesting the rape. Last year we opened for picking on June 8. This year we started on June 15 for a six-week season that will then take us on into arable harvest time.

“Each year we’re attracting more visitors to pick their own strawberries and we grow five different varieties including Honeoye, Pegasus, Florence, Symphony and Eros.

“Farming can sometimes be a lonely occupation and farmers can lead solitary lives but this provides us with an opportunity to meet people. We get a good feeling out of it and seeing children coming up to us after picking strawberries with it all over their mouths and a big beaming smile is an image that stays with you.

“Earlier this week our daughter Katie brought the local Rainbow and Brownie troop on their annual visit and the field was a picture with over 60 children picking, along with their leaders and parents we must have had 100 in just for an hour.

“When we first started our customers were mainly from Withernsea, Patrington and the surrounding villages but now that we’ve been doing it close a decade most of our trade comes from Hull. Families love coming here on their way to and from the seaside.”

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing.

“We first planted strawberries in 2006, so our first season was in 2007. Our first week was looking brilliant but then the rains came. The field was flooded and we were effectively shut down for two to three weeks.”

Holderness land is renowned for its productivity and Eastfield Farm generally produces a wheat yield of four tonnes per acre. Despite the lower average price for wheat in the past two years Harold says they are growing more than ever this year.

“We’re growing around 240 acres of wheat with our main established varieties being Leeds, JB Diego and Beluga. We also have three new varieties Conversion, Evolution and Revelation and they’re all looking good. Some of the soft wheat goes for biscuit making but the majority goes into Vivergo Fuels at Saltend or to a local mill. We store what we can and sell through from harvest to the following May.”

One of the changes made to their cereal crops has been the barley.

“We’ve kicked out winter barley and instead we’ve incorporated spring barley and a little bit of fallow. Our reasoning is partly to spread the workload and partly to try and combat the blackgrass problem that many farms are suffering.”

There are three other elements that make up today’s operations at Hollym.

“We have 700 bed and breakfast pigs that we take through from 35-40kgs to finishing; we’ve gone into solar power energy; and we also have a Caravan Club Certified site for five caravans. This has been another really nice add-on to what we offer and we love having people around.”