Family’s return to the Wolds after a decade in Canada

Mark Roper (left) and Andrew Roper pictured on their farm in Skerne, Driffield. Pictures by Simon Hulme.
Mark Roper (left) and Andrew Roper pictured on their farm in Skerne, Driffield. Pictures by Simon Hulme.
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Foreign agricultural climes were in vogue with forward-looking farmers in the 90s and early 2000s when the lure of taking on thousands of acres in either Canada or eastern Europe for giving up what may have been a couple of hundred acres over here convinced many to give it a try.

The nomadic Ropers were one such family to up sticks and move to Saskatchewan in Canada having spent many years in Wiltshire and Wales. They had ten years in the land of the maple leaf before coming back to head of the family Steve’s county homeland in 2015.

Mark Roper pictured on the farm.

Mark Roper pictured on the farm.

Steve was born and bred a Bradford lad, had started working at the top of Garrowby Hill for a farm in Bishop Wilton when he was 16, moved to Follifoot Farm in Pannal near Harrogate and although spending much of his adult life in the south of England in East Sussex, Bedfordshire and Wiltshire before a move to Cardigan in Wales, his love of the Wolds and the East Riding was a factor when the family returned to the UK.

The move to Yorkshire was a first for wife Linda, whose father was a herdsman, and their sons Andrew and Mark who now run the 260-acre farming operation of which 190 acres is owned at Golden Hill Farms, Wansford near Driffield.

There is a further 50 acres also owned elsewhere and the brothers have quickly developed agricultural contracting and mobile feed mill and mixing businesses since arriving back in the UK.

Next month Andrew and Mark will be demonstrating their work at YAMS (Yorkshire Agricultural Machinery Show) with their new mill from Rob Theakston of Superior in Fridaythorpe and with DB Agriculture who they work closely alongside.

For Andrew it is a welcome return to a familiar sector.

“We had our own mill and mix business in Cardigan, which I had to sell due to our move to Canada. I’d been truck driving for a company in Brandesburton since we’d come back and I talked about getting set up again with Rob at Superior who manufactures great machines.

“We found someone who had an existing mill and mix business, was looking to get out and ended up buying his lorry, mill and customer base that included around 35 active customers. It has enabled me to stay with the farm rather than having to find work through another company.

“We’ve added another half a dozen new customers since we started in February last year and the main reason we are going to YAMS is to tell others we’re around. We’re currently milling around 250 tonnes of feed in two and a half to three days a week and travelling as far as York, Tadcaster, Thirsk and all around Holderness and the Wolds. What customers are looking for is quality feed and for the job to be done as quickly and economically as possible.

“We mill and mix at a rate of around 25-30 tonnes per hour and visit customers when they want us which varies dependent on farm between weekly, fortnightly and monthly. Mark and I largely go together and if customers are busy we are happy to operate their machinery in getting the loading done.

“Our mill has the barley, wheat or beans going in at the top where they get rolled. From there the rolled feed drops into a mixing chamber where molasses and protein is added and then mixed into a trough auger. From there it either goes into the trailer or on the feed pile. The new machine has the capability to add two proteins. We’re looking forward to having it on display.”

Tractor and trailer driving, specifically leading potatoes and grain, have been two of Andrew and Mark’s agricultural contracting lines over the recent past but it is their increasing reputation as specialists in Avadex application that is catching the eye as Andrew tells.

“Avadex is the main plank of the current blackgrass control programme It’s the only product that everyone agrees can do the job and as such it has become our most in demand service around here and the Wolds, although we will go wherever. We have a 24-metre boom spreader using Avadex in its granular form. Our application is about as accurate as you can get.”

It was a whole family decision to come back from Canada a decade on from when they left Wales and the Ropers have no regrets. They’ve moved around enough to know that life goes on wherever you are. Steve tells of how different farming is nearly 4,000 miles west of Driffield.

“‘Everything we knew about farming had to be thrown out when we got there. It was like starting over again. The style of farming and particularly the weather were so far removed from what we were used to.

“Over here farmers have two chances to get crops in because if you miss autumn drilling you’ve still got spring. Over there you’ve only got spring and we had a window of around a month to six weeks to get 4000 acres in the ground. It’s pretty stressful as it will be minus 20 degrees until the end of April and will soon then go to 70 degrees.”

The Ropers also brought back their Canadian-bought combine harvester a Case International 9120 Axialflow with 30ft cutter.