Hall Farm, Suffolk
In most areas of life these days, youth is considered a good quality, and “oldness” – let’s call it seniority – is a bit frowned upon.
But in farming, it is often the older workers and farmers who have built up that priceless stock of knowledge, experience and skill that can only come from doing the job, day-in, day-out for many years.
If you want a good example of knowledge and experience, George Manning’s record would be pretty hard to beat.
“George’s devotion to the farm over 60 years is truly impressive. He has obviously been the backbone of this busy business for many years and is keen to carry on.”
Meurig Raymond, president, NFU
In fact, you would have to go back to 2 July 1954 if you wanted to witness George’s first day at Hall Farm, Fornham St Martin, near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. However, it is all as clear as day to him.
George had left school at 15 and went to work for Colonel Long, the grandfather of current owner Andrew Long. His father Tom also worked on the farm before him, so the association between the two families spans more than a century.
He has seen big changes in the farm since that time. Hall Farm was a 300ha mixed farm in those days, with corn, cattle and sheep the main enterprises and 19 people on the payroll.
Fast forward 60 years and the total area farmed is now 1,200ha, with just eight staff running it.
The emphasis has moved away from livestock to arable, with the main crops now being 12,500t of potatoes, 6,000t of onions, 12,000t of sugar beet, 3,000t of wheat and 1,000t of rape – a massive annual 34,000t of produce.
- 1,200ha, mainly down to potatoes, onions, wheat and rape
- 34,000t of produce grown every year
- 19 staff when George started. Eight now
- Impressive devotion to the farm over 60 years
- Extraordinary degree of organisation – never flustered
- A backbone of the business over many decades
So how does a 75-year-old fit in with this busy and thoroughly modern farming enterprise? The answer is – brilliantly.
George and the farm’s JCB do 1,600 hours a year – that’s an average of four-and-a-half hours a day, every day.
Co-ordinating 300t of incoming and outgoing crop each day could easily become a nightmare for lesser men, but George’s organisational skills mean it runs like a well-oiled machine.
He is always in at 6am during the potato harvest, says Mr Long.
“He never panics or gets in a flap, even if there is a queue of lorries waiting. In this game, if you panic, you’re lost. Also, everything he does, he does with care.
“George is also really good at encouraging younger members of staff,” he adds.
“He will let them make mistakes and then gently coach them on the right way to do it.”
For George himself, it is all second nature. His almost military-grade organisational skills have been honed over five decades and there is not much he doesn’t know.
He comes across as a modest chap, but there is a steeliness about him and he is obviously a stickler for organisation.
“I do get annoyed when people leave things about – they should be put back where they came from. Otherwise you can spend an hour looking for something,” George says.
Will he ever retire? He smiles. One day he will have to, he concedes, but that is still a long way off.
Staple Farm, Taunton
Graham has worked for Mark Pope since 1988. He is given a lot of responsibility and takes that role very seriously. His technical skills are second to none and he’s happy to turn his hand to any aspect of this very diversified farm business.
Lees Farm, Devon
Roger is a true all-rounder. He can turn his hand very ably to milking, looking after stock, machinery maintenance, feeding, chainsaw work, vaccination and AI. In fact, he does the work of two men, says boss Michael Williams.
“Farmers need a tough, versatile workhorse that can take on any job and do it well. That’s not too different from the candidates in this category, who brought skill and staying power to all the tasks they tackled.”
William Brown, general manager