Farm of the Week: Show must go on after wettest season in the fields

Chris Rooke, new chairman of the Huby & Sutton-on-the-Forest Show, with his herd of Aberdeen Angus cross Belgian Blue cattle.  Picture: James Hardisty
Chris Rooke, new chairman of the Huby & Sutton-on-the-Forest Show, with his herd of Aberdeen Angus cross Belgian Blue cattle. Picture: James Hardisty
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When Huby & Sutton-on-the-Forest Show didn’t take place last year there were many locals who feared the worst, that another of the county’s smaller agricultural shows had breathed its last, but it’s back and Chris Rooke of Beeches Farm, Newton-on-Ouse is delighted.

Chris is the new show chairman and is looking forward to its return on June 25.

“It’s very important we keep shows like ours going. This will be our 122nd show. That’s a proud history and if we don’t maintain and enhance it for our visitors then it will disappear joining the likes of Tollerton, Husthwaite and Seaton Ross that have fallen by the wayside.

“One of the difficulties has been manpower with the show having previously been held on the last Sunday in July as setting up has always seen us under pressure because of harvest, particularly winter barley. We’ve shifted it forward a month and moved it to a Saturday.

“It’s a great show and includes strong classes in cattle, sheep, goats and horses. We’re also very fortunate that the Sheffield family allow us the use of their wonderful grounds at Sutton Park. Until around 20 years ago the show had been held in various locations.

“All agricultural shows are in the entertainment business and we understand that means providing something other than the livestock classes. We now have sections for vintage cars and tractors, plus we have the ‘sheep show’ man coming who attends the Great Yorkshire Show each year. We’re also putting on a local band after 5pm.”

While the weather may not have been at fault for the show’s absence last year, it certainly had an impact on Chris’ 320-acre farm in January when he lost 20 acres of winter wheat, had his wildflower meadowland decimated; and in total had 50 acres under water.

“Last winter was the worst weather we’ve ever had. It was wet all around and went up to 8ft deep where the school bus now infamously tried to get through. Keith who works for me had to go on a 22-mile round trip to get here for a few weeks. It normally takes him about five minutes.

“The River Kyle flows through ings land and into the River Ouse in Newton. We have a field where it connects up, but its flow didn’t get into the Ouse for 14 days and meant our land was under water for seven weeks.

“What happens is there are big doors on the confluence of the two rivers and when the Ouse rises the big doors are shut on the Kyle. It’s meant to stop York from flooding, which didn’t work this year for reasons that everyone saw on TV, but what that meant was the Kyle had nowhere to tip out the additional rainfall and it brought about our worst ever flooding. Some fields still have standing water now.

“We’re currently in the process of getting help from the government to restore the wildflower meadows as we need to completely reseed.”

Beeches Farm is an arable and beef cattle concern with combinable crops this year including 70 acres of JB Diego winter wheat; 40 acres of Cassia winter barley; 25 acres of Propino spring barley; and 11 acres of oilseed rape. It would have been far greater an acreage of winter wheat but for the floods. Chris has let out 30 acres for potatoes.

“We usually grow somewhere in the region of 180-220 acres of combinable crops. We have a variety of land type across the farm from medium loam to heavy clay and similarly to everyone else last year we achieved healthy tonnage averaging around 4.2 tonnes per acre on winter wheat; and nearly four tonnes for the barley. We have some land that is close to being Grade 1 and that’s showing a fabulous 40-acre crop of winter wheat at the moment.”

Beef cattle are produced through Chris’ commercial herd of 75 suckler cows that is made up of half Aberdeen Angus X and half Belgian Blue X.

“Bull calves go at 14-15 months through York Auction Centre fatstock market at around 580-600 kilos. The heifers and any remaining bullocks go out for a second term on grass after a silage-based indoor diet during winter and are then put on to a barley and protein mix for the last three to four months. All of the bullocks go to York Auction Centre and quite a lot of the heifers go to Geoff Thornton’s butchers in Easingwold.

“Geoff buys direct from me and we send them to Chris Hodgson’s abattoir in Sutton-on-the-Forest. The up-to-two year olds have been averaging around 380 kilos deadweight. Our bullocks have been going at around 700 kilos liveweight, but we’ve been getting a few away at 580-600 kilos as massive bullocks aren’t in demand. Customers want smaller-sized steaks these days.

“We keep two Belgian Blue bulls and also use some AI. The Aberdeen Angus and Belgian Blue cows are all about three-quarter pure.”

On Chris’ land, especially on the ings, wildlife flourishes - attracting geese, swans, kingfishers and otters.

“The swans arrive this time every year and we have six so far. We were in the Entry Level Stewardship Scheme but that finished and the new tier system wasn’t worth being in it for what we were going to get.”

Chris’ hobby also has a farming link. He runs a hog roast business getting through 130 pigs a year from Geoff Thornton and Wilsons of Sproxton.

His wife Joanne runs the City & Guilds Centre for the York Proficiency Testing Committee for land based qualifications that conducts operator assessing for sprayers of fertiliser and any substance; and driving of fork lift trucks, diggers and dumpers. Chris has been an assessor for the past 36 years.

The Rooke family has farmed in and around Newton and Linton on Ouse since 1795.

Chris and Joanne have two daughters; Georgina, 12, and Scarlett, 11, who will be competing with ponies at the show while Chris mans the hog roast in addition to his show duties.

Huby & Sutton-on-the-Forest Show takes place on June 25.