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!)
14th January 2018