Opinion: We’re playing The Generation Game in farming

Everyone above a certain age will remember The Generation Game hosted by Bruce Forsyth.

Has it occurred to you that you are in one yourself – agriculture.

Never was this thought more poignant than this summer when I was selling a piece of machinery.

One of our local farmers came to view it, accompanied by his son and grandson.

See also: Weaned calves, amorous bulls and stalking breaks 

While the grandfather talked about “old times with my father”, the son found fault with the machine (presumably in the hope of bidding me down on price), while the grandson measured it frantically for his farm gateways. In what other industry, I thought, would you find this situation?

Farming is not just a job, it is a way of life, something you are bred to do – with all the valuable information and skills passed down through the generations.

Some people are taught how to plough, others how to shear sheep or lay hedges.

Take knowledge about your land, for example.

No surveyor could tell you about wet or problem areas of your farm with as much accuracy as your grandfather.

Other things in life, such as how we manage our money, are influenced by this generational tie.

When I recently went to a merchant and forgot my cheque book, he referred to what a good payer my grandfather had been and sent me on my way with the plough part and a new credit rating.

We will probably never get rich from farming, but it is not the money that drives us (OK, I’m not naive, we all need to earn a certain amount from it to stay in business).

Rather, though, it is the sense that when we step out of our front door in the morning, it is into a beautiful setting – somewhere safe and unspoilt.

From an early age, all I’d wanted to do was farm.

It wasn’t just the awe of the big tractors, but the superb way of life I had been brought up in. 

When I attended the local grammar school, I was ridiculed by my mates for wanting to stay on the farm with my father, while they all went off to university.

The other year many of us had a school reunion, organised via Facebook.

It’s funny how the tide turns. Most of them are now envious of my way of life, with such a rewarding job, living in such an idyllic place and the added security of village life. 

One of my friends actually announced that he was coming home to farm with his father, after being sat in a room with a headset on for the past 10 years talking to a video screen live from Japan.

I left the reunion that night with a sense of satisfaction with my life.

Later that year, my wife and I had a son – hopefully starting a new generation of farming.

I can see so clearly in my own son, Tom, now only two, the massive pull of farming life.

It’s just not his obsession with tractors, like all young boys, but his love of the outdoors and his affection for the animals.

Recently, Tom’s obsession with driving got us into trouble at a sheepdog trial.

As Tom, Sally and I were sat in the Land Rover watching the trial, one of my fellow competitors – who had recently been crowned national champion – was having a dream run.

The sheep were walking gently around the course through all the gates and the sheepdog was taking every whistle his master was giving him.

As the sheep walked slowly up to the pen, the national champion held the pen gate open calmly, then to our horror, Tom, while pretending to drive the Land Rover, pressed the horn.

When the judge sounds the horn at a trial, it signifies “time up” or“disqualification”.

As Sally and I sank down in our seats, said competitor walked of the course shaking his head.

A father-and-son relationship is even stronger in a farming situation.

Your father is your farm advisor, accountant, best pal – but your worst enemy when you want to buy a new tractor.

I’m sure a lot of us have not listened to the advice our fathers gave us. I found a quotation that sums this up. “By the time a man realises his father is right, he has a son who thinks he is wrong.”

“No surveyor could tell you about wet or problem areas of your farm with as much accuracy as your grandfather”

It is vital to listen to what your fathers and grandfathers tell you.

That information is probably only stored with them – and once they leave us you can never find it again.

My father was very ill for the past three years.

During this time I cherished the advice he gave me.

One of his favourite sayings that always reassured me when a tractor had broken down was: “Things will always look better in the morning son”.

He passed away recently after battling with emphysema, a crippling respiratory disease, which resulted from years of dust inhalation, contact with fusty grain and mouldy hay (the latter can cause “farmers’ lung”).

My father’s generation never had the benefits of dust masks.

I remember the first time I saw a dust mask being used by one of the men; he had poked a hole in it and was puffing away on a cigarette.

I must stress to the younger readers the importance of wearing these masks.

They might not look “cool” but it’s a lot cooler to stay alive, have a child and bring the next generation into British farming.

James Read farms sheep & arable crops on 400 hectares, on the edge of the Lincolnshire wolds at Louth. He and his wife, Sally, have a young son, Tom. He trains and trials sheepdogs. Find him on Twitter at @jimreadfarmer.

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