Farming at Brickyard Farm

To be asked to deputise for the journalistic talents and agricultural observations of Stephen Prest is something I consider to be a privilege, so welcome to my occasional column!

Whilst only being a whipper snapper of 41, I have been involved in farming in Slingsby for all of my life. A little history for those unfamiliar with our operations, some of which is detailed in David Thornley’s excellent recent books Slingsby – Then and Now’, and  ‘Farming in Slingsby Parish’

As a family, we have been tenants of Castle Howard Estate for over 90 years:

  • 1926 Thomas and Esther Wilson take on Park House Farm, Easthorpe.
  • 1954 Kenneth and Daphne Wilson take tenancy of Porch Farm, Slingsby
  • 1989 Christopher Wilson takes tenancy of Brickyard Farm, Slingsby
  • 2006 Andrew Wilson becomes joint tenant of Brickyard Farm

So we’ve been here a while!

Over the years the farming has evolved, from horses to tractor power, and from a very mixed operation to a slightly more specialised one today.

I can remember as a lad picking stones on the sheepwalk heights fields in spring (land previously part of Porch farm, now part of the estates in hand farming), watching (in awe) grandpa hooking and topping swedes in one deft movement, or hoeing sugar beet in a similar fashion. Try as I might, I never really got the knack. (well I was only 7 or 8!) I still remember him teaching me how to sow grass with a Seed Lip hopper, and hand broadcasting in a figure of 8 movement, and practised this last year when we grassed down the area at the end of our farm drive.

This beet work would be as recent as the early 1980’s, how things move on! Monogerm sugar beet seed was developed ( as described by Stephen Prest in an earlier article, meaning that one plant grows from one seed, removing the need to ‘single’ the plants) and harvesters have developed from hand pulling  to the six row self propelled tanker model that you will no doubt of seen Brian or George Clifford driving through the village in recent times. Grandpa passed away in May 1986, and I often wonder what his opinion of todays farming would be.

My involvement here at Brickyard was initially as a boy helping out in the early 90’s. I had a spell working away as a student, but have been farming here with dad permanently since summer 1997. In 2006 I was lucky enough to become joint tenant, giving us the longer term confidence to invest in and grow our business. In the summer of 2014, I moved back into Brickyard farmhouse, with my wife Elizabeth, and daughters Mollie (nearly 10) and Poppy (7). Mum and dad remain very much involved in the business, but live now in a lovely bungalow at Barton le Street.

A few things have remained very similar for many years. We have grown sugar beet and potatoes along with cereals since the 1970’s. Grandpa ran a lorry hauling grain in the 70’s, and dad continues that today. We have seven lorries today, you may of seen them trundling through the village, usually towing a tipper trailer, mostly carrying grain from farms to feed and flour mills and maltsters, generally within a 100 mile radius of Slingsby.

When York beet factory closed in 2007, many people ceased beet growing north and east of York. Well, never one to follow fashion (!) I have continued to supply beet to Newark factory, along with dad’s cousin Michael Wilson at Ganthorpe, and more recently, Cliffords in the village, and another couple of local farmers, all of whose beet we transport to British Sugar’s Newark Factory, (100miles away) often returning with malting barley for Knapton maltings, or beet pellets for livestock feed.

Beet has been a very consistent crop for us, and grows well on the lighter land to the southern end of the farm. We feed it with muck from the pigs, irrigate it in dry years, and with good dose of sunshine, we get a decent crop. Sunshine is essential for the beet to produce sugar, and it is the sugar content of the beet that dictates how much we are paid for it. Beet is one crop that has really seen some advancement in the last 30 or so years. In the early 80’s, 15t/ac was considered a decent performance, now, we budget on 27t/ac. This year has been good for beet, with yields comfortably above that level. We have 22acres still to harvest later this month (when it dries up a bit!)

By comparison, average wheat yields have barely risen 10% over the same period.

More on people,  pigs, potatoes, cereals, pulses, environmental schemes, cover crops and carbon footprints in a later column!

Here’s to a kind spring and ‘normal’ (!) farming season. (its been a testing backend!)


Andrew Wilson

14th January 2018

Farming column – December 2017

 It is a quiet time of year on the farm and it is nice to be able to relax a bit and enjoy more leisure time.  What has become a regular event over the winter months is the annual “Potato Wars” which is held at The Grapes Inn.  A number of local potato growers each take a sample of potatoes to The Grapes where they are washed and made into chips.  Bowls of chips are then taken round the customers for a blind tasting and the sample voted as the best chips is awarded a trophy and has the privilege of supplying The Grapes with potatoes for the next year.  Those taking part this year were Alex Lange, Stephen Rooke, Andrew Wilson, Stuart Prest and The Sparrow family.  The winner was Stuart Prest and he was presented with the trophy by Trudy Carr.
When walking round my fields just before Christmas I was delighted to see 8 swans on one of my small ponds.  I didn’t have my camera with me at the time so I went back the next morning which was a bright frosty morning and was able to take some pictures of them.  They were obviously feeding on pond weed and they stayed for a couple of days or so before moving on.  A couple of days later I saw a herd of 7 Roe deer in one field and 3 in another field.  Their numbers are increasing year by year and they are a lovely sight.
Stephen Prest

Farming column – March 2017

It has been a long somewhat dismal winter with very little in the way of frost or snow.  Some good hard frosts are very good for keeping diseases under control both in humans and in our crops. Fungal diseases like mildew thrive in damp mild conditions which means more chemical sprays on cereals to keep it under control.

Spring has definitely arrived as I write in mid-March, the daffodils are in full bloom and there is always an impressive show of violets up The Long Balk. If you walk up there on a calm day you have the pleasure of their wonderful scent.  It is a good time to plant trees and shrubs and having bought some fruit trees in a charity auction Rachel & I have been creating a small orchard in a corner of a field up Slingsby Heights (picture above).

On the farming scene there has been a welcome increase in the prices of cereals and oilseed rape.This seems to be due to Brexit and the fall in value of the pound against the euro and the dollar. The negotiations to leave Europe will be long and tedious which means several years of uncertainty in the farming sector.  We hope it all works out well for everyone in the end.

Stephen Prest

Farming column – January 2017

Ploughing at Castle Farm Jan 2017

The year 2016 has been one of many surprises, especially the referendum vote to leave the EU.  We are now in a period of great uncertainty, not really knowing how it will work out. Will it be hard Brexit i.e. cutting our links with the EU completely or soft Brexit, trying to maintain a good relationship with Europe especially regarding trade.  Who knows, the politicians seem a bit confused about it so we have no chance of knowing where it will end up.  One positive outcome so far is that the pound has weakened against the euro and the dollar which has pushed up the price of imports and the price of our grain and oilseed rape has risen quite a lot as a result of it.  Wheat is now worth £135 per tonne, up from around £105 and oilseed rape as much as £350 per tonne.

Another bit of good news this year is that the Rural Payments Agency, which is responsible for paying farmers support payments under the EU Basic Payments Scheme, has been much more efficient in getting payments out and most farmers will have received their payment on time in December.

The autumn and winter weather has been kind so far and crops look very well with no frost damage and very little flooding.  At the time of writing severe wintry weather is forecast, let’s hope it isn’t too bad.

One of the main jobs on the farm over the winter months is ploughing the land in preparation for spring sowing.  Ploughing is the most effective way of turning over the soil, getting rid of weeds and helping create a good seedbed especially if it gets a good frost on it to break the soil down.  It is however quite a slow and expensive operation and some farmers prefer a mini-till system using soil looseners and direct drills, but this can lead to a build-up of grass weeds in particular.

Let us hope 2017 is a good year for farming and for the whole country.

Stephen Prest

Farming Column – Malton Show July 2016


We are in the midst of the Agricultural Show season and there are so many to choose from with The Great Yorkshire Show which is Englands premier show at one end of the scale and small local shows like Farndale and Rosedale at the other.  On Sunday 3rd of July we went to the Malton Show held at Scampston Park, a truly magnificient setting with The Hall on one side and the beautiful lake on the other.  It was an interesting day with so much to see and do for all ages.  It was great to see children zooming round a race track on mini quad bikes and lots of bouncy castles for them to get rid of some energy.  The sheep and cattle numbers are improving again after going through a steady decline. I was particularly impressed with the Beef Shorthorns which not long ago were in the rare breed category but now are really thriving.  Morrisons Supermarket offer a special contract for Beef Shorthorn cattle because the quality and flavour of their meat is so good.  The only local people we saw with livestock entries were Robin and Ann Lacy from Airyholme with their Leicesters and Rare breed sheep and they had a successful day winning several prizes.

One of the highlights of the show is the “Vintage Section” with old stationary engines, tractors, classic cars and motorbikes.  It was good to see Mick Dixon exhibiting his vintage David Brown tractor. It is one of the best vintage tractor shows anywhere around.

Horses are a very important part of Malton Show with dozens of classes for all types of horse.  It is always good to see the heavy horses in the main ring and there were three entries pulling different types of wagon including the well known Wolds Wagon.  The grand parade of cattle in the main ring was very impressive.  The parade of sheep consisted of the champion ram which was driven round the ring in the back of a pickup truck.

On our way out we paused to watch the sheepdog trials which was very interesting.  The dog we saw didn’t believe in going too far round to fetch the sheep in fact more often than not it took the shortest route which was straight through the middle, scattering sheep in all directions.  When it came to the final penning a battle ensued between the sheep and the dog and the sheep won and refused to be penned.  It reminded me of a sheep dog we had years ago called Tip who also had a habit of running straight through the middle of the flock scattering sheep everywhere.

The Malton School Jazz Band was there entertaining the crowds.  Rachel Conyers and Ryan Perry from Slingsby were playing in the band and they all played brilliantly.  It was a real pleasure to stand and listen to them.

All in all a Grand Day out and the weather was kind to us as well.

Stephen Prest