OPINION: We farmers are in a ‘class’ of our own, says Guy Smith

Farmers love to differentiate themselves from one another.

Horn versus Corn. Tenants and Owners. Upland or Lowland. Organic not Normal. In addition, there’s geography to divide us up even further. In the curious world of farming, small rivers such as the Tamar and the Waveney become as like mighty, seldom-forded chasms that divide genetically distinct farming tribes on either bank. Similarly, small hills such as the Pennines or the Cheviots become impassable mountain ranges that separate farming communities with the same effect as the border between North and South Korea. You imagine Yorkshire farming families would risk losing all contact with close relatives if they bought a farm in Lancashire.

As for me, I like to think I’m fairly cosmopolitan, but the fact is the farmers in the neighbouring parish are an odd bunch, not to be trusted. Admittedly I married a girl from outside the village, but that was primarily due to concerns about the family gene pool rather than the lure of the exotic.

But, here’s the curious thing, you will seldom hear farmers dividing themselves up by reference to class. We’re all sort of upper/lower middling middle class. We’re not nobs but we’re not riff raff either. You won’t find many of us at the ballet or the bingo. Unless you count marker dye, few of us have tattoos but most of us come in from work to eat our “tea” rather than “take supper”. I went to Clacton grammar rather than some posh private school like Matt Naylor.

But now it’s all gotten a bit more complicated. The boffins have decreed there are no longer just three social classes but rather seven, ranging from the “elite” to the “precariat” – or to put in another way, ranging from Ian Pigott to Charlie Flindt.

I married a girl from outside the village, but that was primarily due to concerns about the family gene pool
Curiously one of the myriad of questions that you have to answer in the tick box test to determine which of the seven classes you are in is “do you know a farmworker socially?” If you answer “yes” you tend to fall down the social scale. However, another question asks if you socialise with someone who works in a call centre and if you answer yes then you get pushed back up a notch. The tricky bit for me was that I’m frequently phoned up by people who work in call centres, but I’m not sure it counts as socialising. Obviously, if I asked them if they fancied a pint then I would become a social climber. Regrettably, I usually swear and slam the phone down on them, which probably means I lack social finesse.

But the good news is that I don’t think this new class test is going to differentiate farmers much. It’s not because we wouldn’t fall into different categories, but rather because few of us will bother to fill in the questionnaires. Proper farmers enjoy form-filling as much as they do blood poisoning. We either avoid it like the plague or fill them in not by telling the truth, but rather by ticking the box that we think will help us pass. It’s a new syndrome called “Farm assurance conditioning”. I fell victim to this the other day when filling in the list of yes/no tick-boxes you have to answer before you give blood. The nurse could hardly stop smirking when she ushered me into the little curtained-off booth to raise the query: “So, Mr Smith, I notice from your form you are currently pregnant.”

Guy Smith comes from a mixed family farm on the north-east Essex coast. The farm is officially recognised as the driest spot in the British Isles. Situated on the coast close to Clacton-on-Sea, the business is well diversified with a golf course, shop, fishing lakes and airstrip.

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