Our quest to find a new young farmer columnist yielded a bumper crop of budding writers, all vying for a regular slot to share their views.
We invited anyone in agriculture under the age of 30 to write us a column on their thoughts, hopes and fears for 2021 – and we weren’t disappointed.
Spoilt for choice, we’ve chosen not one but two young farmers to join our ranks. Let’s meet them.
Charlie Beaty, 25, Warwickshire
I think we can all agree that 2020 was the most ‘Monday-est’ year of the century.
The wettest February on record (and somehow only the fifth wettest winter on record) was followed by some glorious sunshine which clocked in as the driest spring on record.
We went into nationwide lockdown, we clapped for the NHS, we donated to Captain Tom Moore, and we got more to grips with Zoom quizzes and virtual socialisation than we ever thought we would.
So how will 2021 measure up? For me, the New Year seems miles away, rather than the mere six weeks at time of writing. Yep, you heard me right, six weeks. 42 days. 1,008 hours. 60,480 minutes. *Gulp*.
For a while now, plenty of us have been joking about how we will celebrate the New Year like never before, leaving the trials and tribulations of 2020 firmly in the past, vowing to have more appreciation for the little things we take for granted.
But as we head for the most momentous New Year’s Eve of my lifetime, it is becoming more and more likely we will be spending it in lockdown.
In agriculture, new years seem to start at a different time to the universal calendar.
To my mind, the agricultural calendar begins again when the cultivator erases the memory of the prior harvest, when the ram is reintroduced to his ladies, when the leaves turn a rusty golden colour, the nights draw in, the sock tan starts to fade and the shorts are put away for the year.
But back to the calendar on the wall. What does 2021 hold for UK agriculture and the countryside that we work so hard to preserve?
Waitrose has committed to stock 100% British lamb – will other retailers follow suit? Will Brexit deliver trade deals beyond our wildest dreams?
Will perfect weather conditions maximise yield potentials? Will the pandemic become a distant memory, allowing normal life to resume? What even is “normal” now?
For me, 2021 probably won’t be much different to 2020, at least in terms of work. The ewes will lamb, the cows will calve, the grass will need mowing and baling, the crops will need harvesting (they blinkin’ better do anyway!!).
Away from work though, there is a lot I hope for. I hope that in some way or another, social contact will resume and mental health will improve.
I hope that Young Farmers’ Clubs can recommence meetings, competitions and fundraising. I hope that we can once again all head down to the local on a Friday night.
I hope we can mix with different people and talk about different things again. I hope I learn not to take the small things for granted. Good friends, good food and good health.
Having recently returned from 19 months working in agriculture in Australia and New Zealand, Charlie is now back on her family’s mixed farm near Birmingham.
The Harper Adams University graduate has a keen interest in the livestock sector, being heavily involved in the beef and sheep enterprises at home, as well as the arable and contracting side of things.
She is an active member of Warwickshire YFC and loves travelling the world.
“The future of British agriculture is as uncertain as it has ever been and, while daunting and challenging, these uncertainties will likely offer the industry opportunities for positive change,” she says.
Chris Bennett, 28, Lincolnshire/New Zealand
This doesn’t have to be “the best year ever!” – a promise so rashly made at midnight on every New Year’s Eve. It just has to be better than 2020.
No two ways about it – 2020 has been a year to forget. Covid has brought worldwide lockdowns, extreme weather has caused the lowest UK wheat production in a generation, and we still don’t have a solution to the issue of Brexit. For me 2020 was supposed to be the year that I returned to the family farm.
Having completed my education, I was encouraged, as many farm kids are, to travel and gain experience away from home. “Go away and make mistakes on somebody else’s farm,” I was told. In 2015 I set off for New Zealand.
Five years later and approaching half the average age of the UK farmer, I am still here. I’m working on a farm in the Canterbury Plains where the soil is excellent and the yields are record breaking. It is an amazing place to farm.
Newly married, my Kiwi wife and I planned to stay until June 2020, then return to the home farm in the UK in time for harvest.
Then came Covid. Due to underlying health conditions the risk of catching the virus while travelling was far too high, putting a halt to our plans.
Are we crazy for still wanting to go back in 2021 – or at all? In New Zealand we have a happy life. I get to farm in one of the best places in the world and importantly for us, NZ is one of the only countries in the world that has managed to stay relatively Covid free. Most people would stay for that alone.
My wife has asked me why my connection to the home farm is so strong. It is important she understands before we commit to moving across the world, but it is hard to explain.
Maybe it is the history; my family has farmed some of our land for more than 100 years which in itself brings an unspoken pressure.
Although my parents have been careful not to push me or my siblings into farming, they are approaching retirement age and they cannot farm forever. I know it is their dream that one of us should take over.
Luckily for my parents, I have always dreamed of running the family farm. Everything I have done since leaving the UK has been with my return in mind, it has driven my desire to learn.
That is why I listen to farming podcasts and follow random farmers on Twitter. It is why I find myself checking the UK wheat price and reading the UK Farmers Weekly.
Despite being abroad I am always thinking of what I could change when I return. My long-standing dream to return to the home farm has driven everything I have done for the past five years and I am not ready to give up on that dream.
As we go further into 2021 I hope it brings better weather and some relief from Covid. Most of all, I hope it takes me home.
Growing up on a mixed arable and beef farm in Lincolnshire, Chris studied physics at Oxford University before deciding to return to farming.
He has a graduate diploma in agriculture and is farming in Wakanui, on the Canterbury Plains of New Zealand.
The farm grows a diverse range of crops, including wheat, barley, ryegrass, clover, peas, spinach and radish, and fattens lambs through the winter.
“I think readers would be interested to learn about how farming is done over here, the lessons I’ve learned by working here, and the things I plan to implement on the farm when I come back to the UK,” he says.