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TCFP46: Ooh Arr

I came over all nostalgic and sentimental during September, I think it’s because the harvest is over for another year.

I grew up on a farm, I am a farmer’s son. Which is very different to saying you’re an accountant’s son. Accountancy doesn’t denote an all-consuming way of life in the way farming does.

I feel like I might return to this theme in future; there are parallels in farming that are well suited to financial planning. For now, let’s get back to the sentimental stuff, while it lasts.

Growing up, Farmers Weekly was required reading and Anglia TV’s Farming Diary was rarely missed. The theme tune still comes easily to me: it’s “Folk Songs From Somerset” by Vaughan Williams.

I remember weeding sugar beet, picking potatoes by hand and lugging straw bales around to put them into 8s so the “grab” could pile them up. And sweeping, always the sweeping. That was all pre-teens which meant no wages. This was childcare with benefits.

I was delighted when my father attached wooden blocks to a tractor’s pedals so I could reach them, I must have been 13. Roll forward to 15 and I was on the road with a L-plated tractor, carting wheat and barley to various grain merchants.  Now I was useful I got paid.

This was proper man’s work; the girls were impressed. I think. At 17, the L-plates were gone. I’m not sure the girls were any more impressed though. I worked every harvest from 13 until I was 22 and leaving university. I loved every bit of it but was never encouraged to make it my own life.

The farm fed, clothed and educated three families totalling nine children over the years. Now it’s part of a much larger concern; with today’s equipment it barely keeps two workers part-occupied for the year.

As you can tell, I have a soft spot for farming and I’m still in touch with that side of life, so I was interested to receive an article from a farming friend. It covered some interesting (to me, at least) stats about farming recently, comparing 1973 with 2017. I was amazed by how farming has changed since I was born in 1972:

  • In 2017 prices, farmers receive 12% less financial support than in 1973.
  • In 1973 we spent 24% of our income on food, today it’s 13%.
  • We are still 60% food self-sufficient, even though the UK population has risen 10m from 56m to 66m.
  • The number of farmers has dropped by 52% to 141,000.
  • The number of farm workers has dropped 40% to 180,000.
  • There are 126,000 police officers, 300,000 accountants and 290,000 doctors by way of comparison.
  • The amount of milk produced is up 8% but the number of cows to produce it is down 45%.
  • And the amount of cereal being produced is up 50%.
  • But the amount of land used is down 15%.

You may well have glazed over by now, but I was fascinated by these figures.

In summary (and through my very rose-tinted glasses) I believe they tell me that UK farmers are feeding 10m more people, with less financial support and using half the workforce. They produce 50% more cereal out of 15% less land, and the same amount of milk from half the cows.

And, to top it all, the food produced  – relatively speaking – costs us 50% less of our income.

That’s all quite impressive, isn’t it? I wonder how many other essential industries have achieved similar results?


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