Farmer Focus : John Whitby

WE FARM 25 miles from the centre of London in its western green belt just north of Slough – much disparaged by John Betjeman, but home to such diverse TV favourites as The Office and Thunderbirds.

We are what I describe as a typical lowland family farm on which we keep 185 Jersey cows, grow milling wheat and more latterly have a growing horse livery business.

We face all the problems of urban fringe farming, such as fly tipping, traveller invasions, traffic congestion and the like. But we have all the opportunities that innovative and creative diversification might provide due to our proximity to a large and wealthy population.

Cows are managed on a high input, high output system. As I write this in early April, despite sward growth looking advanced, cows have not yet ventured out to grass. In my experience this month often has a sting in its tail.

Cows are predominantly of North American breeding, and maize and lucerne are the principal forages on this largely summer calving, dry land unit. Some Danish blood has also been introduced to consolidate butterfats, but perhaps also in deference to my Scandinavian heritage.

This reaches you as we ease into the most radical of agricultural reforms of the past 50 years. Our business is trying to make sense of its complexities, while trying to follow some of the nuances that lie behind the signals from the government.

I am proud of our industry”s ability to interpret these signals and adapt to the changes foisted upon us. I just hope there will be enough of us left to deliver the food and countryside that the policy maker”s utopian ideals decree.