Challenging conventional thinking


Faces of the Future highlights dynamic young people in farming. This week, Wendy Short talks to Martin Drake.


Martin Drake is not afraid to challenge conventional thinking, and nothing illustrates the point better than his views on the recurring theme that farmers need to work harder to inform the public about food provenance.


“Obviously, that is very important, but it’s got to be a two-way process,” he says firmly.


“Our priority should be to gain a better understanding of life in urban areas, because people in towns and cities are our main customers.”


 “We need to join in with as many urban community activities as possible, even if it involves travelling some distance and getting into situations that might be outside our comfort zones.”


Admittedly, Martin has a distinct advantage over many producers, because his family dairy farm is just a few miles from Doncaster, with its population of around 200,000.


As for getting outside his comfort zone, he currently sits on the governing board for two local schools – and he doesn’t even have any children. He also runs his local badminton club and enjoys hill-walking.


“I often get into conversation with farmers while I’m out walking, and of course they don’t realise at first that we both belong to the same industry,” he says.


“They are usually friendly, but I have met one or two who don’t really take advantage of the opportunity to promote goodwill.”


Getting involved in politics is also a good way to collect and process information about urban life, Martin points out.


A passionate Conservative supporter, he is also a Party list candidate, which makes him eligible to apply for a parliamentary seat at the next general election.


His previous bid for the Doncaster North seat against Ed Miliband came close to beating the record for a swing towards the Conservatives in Yorkshire.


While he accepts that community activities and politics may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Martin is adamant that all farmers should play their part in finding out more about public thinking, as well as improving general relations. He cites an example.


“I called in to see my neighbours to discuss slurry-spreading, and they mentioned that they would prefer me to avoid spreading on sundays, when they usually spend time in their gardens.


“I did agree to respect their wishes where possible, but I also explained my position. They really appreciated the fact that I had given them a chance to put their point across.


Now I can spread slurry on a sunday with a clear conscience, if circumstances dictate.”


Underlying Martin’s keen interest in politics, and life beyond the boundaries of Ladythorpe Farm, is his overriding ambition to be able to carry on milking cows.


Nevertheless, he realises that his livelihood might be under threat – the region used to support dozens of dairy farms, but now only a handful remain.


While recognising that getting under the skin of the urban dweller is a lifetime’s work, Martin says he has picked up as few valuable tips to date.


“People are definitely not sitting at home waiting for UK producers to send them messages about farming. We have to reach out to them.


“The divide between rich and poor is growing, and lots of families can’t afford to buy food at farmers’ markets, which are never going to take over from supermarket shopping.


“The parents I meet have very little time to prepare meals. I work about 80-100 hours a week, but I don’t have to commute and I have the freedom to manage my own time to some extent.”


During his one and only brief spell away from home, Martin took a degree in physics, but his love of dairy cows persuaded him to turn his back on a career in science.


His political interests, largely driven by his desire to influence change, could end up making him a household name in the future. But if his political career doesn’t work out, one thing is certain; he will carry on trying to come up with solutions to the problems facing our industry.


Martin Drake (32)


* Degree in physics


* Committed dairy farmer

* List candidate (representing the Conservative Party)

* Governor of two local schools

* District chairman of Dairy Farmers of Britain and member of the communications board


* To help build a solid future for UK family dairy farms

* To carry on milking cows

* To get closer to urban communities, and encourage other farmers to adopt a similar    policy


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