Rachel Stratton (@theglobalfarmher) – Back British Farming

British Farming is close to my heart, it’s certainly made me the person I am. Since leaving school, I am lucky to travel the world working in agriculture, but there is something which always brings …

British Farming is close to my heart, it’s certainly made me the person I am. Since leaving school, I am lucky to travel the world working in agriculture, but there is something which always brings me back to the UK, I think it’s the British Countryside and people in it. Often, I’m away for months at a time and when I’ve returned entire housing estates have been built on previous farms I collected pig feed on as a child. Where I dropped a riding crop on a hack 5 years ago is now ‘no.81 on windyhill lane’. It is a depressing reality, a reality which is happening in not only the UK but all over the world. We need to work together to protect our countryside and our farms, farmers and agriculture.

A little about me; I’m a shepherd, shearer, tractor driver, stock(wo)man, advisor, admin, and a few others. In the UK, during 2022 I worked from uninhabited Orkney Islands to the tip of the Cornish Coast. I feel privileged to know such a variety of British Farmers from dairy operations, beef units, lots of sheep farms, small flocks and even farmed venison.

Farming in the UK is not getting easier. Governing bodies are suffocating farmers with restrictions. As the noose gets tighter, the pressures on finances, legislation, paperwork and additional costs can build up to a breaking point – causing many farmers to quit an industry they’ve been a part of their entire lives. Unfortunately, I don’t see this changing anytime soon, with increased lobbying from anti-agriculture movements the likely outcome is that the UK government will not realise “what are we going to eat?” until it’s too late. I believe the current government prefers to ‘react’ rather than ‘act ahead to prevent’ but that’s a subject for another column.

When asked “what are the key attributes you would need to become a farmer?” For me, the answer always starts with “resilience”. Perhaps the stubbornness to carry on or the love of what you do to persevere and ultimately the inner strength to continue trying to feed a world who are publicising a lot of negativities to your every move. It’s no secret that farming can often be seen as not just a full time job but a full time life. Even as someone who doesn’t own any of their own stock, I can vouch for this. If a farm fails and those involved may see it as a personal failure. The assumption to never take a day off, else you’re slacking, attend a child’s school sports day during harvest or just taking an afternoon away from the farm, is present and something we need to change. We’re losing far too many of our own to mental health issues which could actually be prevented if those individuals felt comfortable to speak up. Thankfully, the UK farming community has recognised this and created several organisations for farmers mental health, although it’s not always enough.

To survive all these changes many are forced to look for new avenues of income. Farm diversification has always been a hot topic, catalysed by the end of the single farm payment scheme. I’d like to encourage farmers to see this as an opportunity to start a new business: selling produce direct from farm, setting up a farm social media, opening the gates for a local farm day during the summer. I think the best way to combat the unfair media bias farmers receive is by educating the consumers from the ground up; I was shocked to find out that many school children think meat comes from a supermarket. In 2023 almost everyone has a smartphone, which means everyone has their own gateway to make up their own opinion, we need to utilise this.

2023 like every year, presents farmers with new challenges, who knows what the weather will throw at us and what factors we’ll have to juggle. All I know for sure is that rain or shine, we have our British farmers to thank, 3 times a day.

Rachel Stratton
@The Global Farmher