Farm of the Week: In with the cereals on Harewood estate

Peter Trickett of Fortshot House Farm Wyke near Leeds in a field of barley.
Peter Trickett of Fortshot House Farm Wyke near Leeds in a field of barley.
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Fatherly advice can be a wonderful, timeless gift. It can also include fabulous wit and forthright wisdom.

The West Riding’s National Farmers Union chairman Peter Trickett recalls fondly his father Michael’s pearls of such humour, prior to joining him, along with brother Simon in what was then a dairy and pig farming operation.

Today it is a wholly arable concern run from his farmhouse base at Fortshot Farm near Wike on the Harewood Estate.

“I’d read micro-biology at Leeds University and hadn’t been planning on coming into the farm but my father persuaded me. When I told him I knew nothing about it his words were that all I needed to do was read Farmers’ Weekly for a year and I would know as much as everyone else.”

Gathering knowledge and experience in agriculture has been vital to Peter but it’s not just farming itself but understanding how to build a successful business that motivates him.

He points to a course he attended in his early 40s as being a watershed time that helped make the bigger decisions that ultimately saw him move away from livestock to cereal production by the year 2000 and farm on his own.

“These days in farming you have to be a business person because that’s what we’re all running. You can be a very good farmer tending livestock and crops but if you’re not running at a profit you’re not going to do very well.

“I always wanted to be able to make clear, rational decisions about farming and farm business and what I wanted were the business skills to enable me to think that way.

“That’s why I went on a three-week advanced course in farm business management sponsored and run by the Worshipful Company of Farmers at Wye College in 1997.

“My father had passed away in 1995 and I had options in mind including whether to keep on with dairy and pigs. We’d had 500 dairy cows and 120 sows plus progeny that we took to bacon weight. The course helped me think about where I was heading.

“What I found was that everyone on the course was very enthusiastic about all sectors of farming and so I came away thinking that agriculture had a huge future. What I then needed to do was work out what would work best here.”

The double whammy of poor milk and pig prices that followed in the late 90s – with the added costs that were going to be associated with the looming stall and tether ban on pigs – made up Peter’s mind.

He and Simon came out of pigs in 1998, sold the dairy herd in 1999 and his brother came out of farming.

Today Peter’s farmed land runs to around 1,100 acres of which he owns just over 300 in scattered parcels of land over a seven mile radius at Arthington, Weeton, Shadwell and Collingham.

Fortshot Farm is tenanted from Harewood Estate, as well as Mill Farm, and the other land is run either on farm business tenancy or contract farming agreements. It’s all arable cropping with wheat, barley, oilseed rape and spring beans.

“I’d found that I enjoyed arable farming in the years before going on my own.

“It was in 1984 that I had started taking arable cropping seriously when we began reducing cow numbers due to milk quota. It was something I’d wanted to do more and when I went on my own it was the path I chose.”

Peter’s first year as a wholly arable enterprise was in 2000 opened his eyes about what he’d taken on.

“That first crop since going solo was such a wet harvest that we had hundreds of tonnes of grain heaped outside in the rain, we were running the dryer for 24 hours a day and every night it would break down.

“The river flooded and washed away what we had drilled and we’d put a lot more grain into the silage shed than we wanted to.

“Then the whole river went through the shed to a depth of 2ft. It was a nightmare.”

A new grain store was co-funded by Peter and the estate that now has state-of-the-art drying floor facilities.

“It’s also set much higher than any river will reach as the store at Mill Farm was at the foot of a hill.

“We’re growing 422 acres of winter wheat this year which is all milling wheat using the varieties Crusoe, Skyfall and Trinity. Winter barley (170 acres) is Infinity this time replacing Tower and Glacier.

“Oilseed rape is Mentor of which we’re growing 215 acres and spring beans we’re growing 140 acres of Fanfare.

“We’ve just introduced spring beans and now have a five-year rotation of wheat, barley, oilseed rape, wheat and spring beans.”

Yields last year were strong across Yorkshire and Peter’s returns were no different.

He averaged five tonnes per acre for all his wheat and it all achieved milling grade.

Peter is currently two-thirds of the way through his two-year term as West Riding County NFU chairman.

He was quite heavily involved with the NFU in the 80s and early 90s but had come away from it in more recent years until he received a call to step into the breach a couple of years ago.

“I was asked whether I would take on the vice chairman’s role with a view to becoming chairman after the previous vice chair David Hall had to drop out due to work commitments. I’ve always felt a sense of duty to do things for the community and feel that the NFU is an incredibly important organisation.”

His view on Brexit was to remain.

“Personally I voted that way because my main worry about leaving the EU was trade.

“My concern is the tariffs that may be set against us when exporting to Europe plus the British government has been in favour of free trade for the past 200 years and that may mean imports that are of lower food standards than ours.”

Peter is married to Amanda. They have three sons, twin boys Robin and James, 30, and Alastair, 28. Alastair married last year and he and his wife Katherine are presently travelling for a year with a view to Alastair joining his father on the farm when he returns.