Agriculture: five Oxfordshire farmers
I visited five Oxfordshire farms in early summer 2002. I wanted to find
out from farmers what changes they had witnessed in agriculture over
their working lives. Economists would see increasing capitalisation in
the agricultural industry, as machinery has replaced Labour, they also
would note the emergence of international markets and consolidation in
the food and agricultural sector.
The conversations you'll here in this programme reveal these changes,
and show what it means to these individuals, who live and work as
Clive Hawes farms sheep and cereals at Grange Farm near Bicester. He diversified a number of years ago, beside farming he also trades in timber and
develops property, including setting up a nursing home which he runs
with his wife. I spoke with him over his kitchen table. Clive Hawes.
HAWES: I'm forty eight years old, been farming here all my
life, my father was a farmer and my grand father before me; um,
probably five or six generations, as far back as family knowledge goes.
Go back when you started working here. You were working here with your
father on the farm?
HAWES: Yeah, lots and lots of Labour, um ...
So let's see, that's about forty eight, forty eight years ago?
HAWES: Well I was born forty eight years ago. I've started going down
the farm; I was always taken down the farm as a baby because my mum and
dad were milking down there, umm so I can remember from three years on,
they were milking in a very old fashioned parlour, very un
mechanised whereas today it's totally changed round the other way.
Was it a small herd?
HAWES: Umm, it would be considered a very small herd today but in those
days they considered it to be quite large. I think they started with
about fifty cows, and built up over ten years to about two hundred,
which in those days was considered large, today of course, a thousand
is large and five hundred is probably a fair sized heard.
When you started going to arable, did the farm get larger? Did you take
on more land?
You've been farming for about thirty years, roughly, is that about
right, here at this farm with your father?
HAWES: Well, my father died when I was eighteen so I've been doing it
in on my own for thirty years. Once we went to arable we did take over
a lot more land as farms became available and guys retired, we would
take over the farms and contract farm it or share farm it with them.
And um we would have ended up, I would have ended up, in about fifteen,
twenty years ago I’d have had about thousand acres, all under arable.
That's quite a size, err …
HAWES: Well it was then, but now a days of
course it's not. Now, I mean now you're looking at Guy's in the area
probably doing five thousand acres, um and they'll be the people that
continue, and I guess in ten years time, they'll have twenty thousand
acres, because it will go in multiples, because the machinery is that
much bigger. I remember fields that I used to bail,
I used to do the bailings because we
needed a lot of straw back here for the live stock. And um there's a
farm between here and Bicester, which was
four hundred acres of arable, and it would take me about a month to
bail that. Now with the big high-density bailers, like last year I saw
the guys go-in, they'd bailed and cleared the whole farm in three days,
and that was one man, whereas when we were doing it, we'd have been
like me bailing, three guys pitching and loading bails and another
couple stacking them back in the barn. And so five
men working for thirty days, that's one hundred and fifty men days
replaced by three days. It's just incredible; I mean its
When you started going to arable, did you err, or was that all sub
contracted, or did you use, or where the employees who lived on the
farm, did they start going into that?
HAWES: No, we always used contractors, because we could see from our
point of view, it was far cheaper to go there contract route than it
was to have our own machinery.
And then of course, there's the associations,
producer associations, I don't know if you're a member of producer
HAWES: No I'm not. I always tried to, for what ever reason; I sort of
paddled my own canoe to be honest. I've kept away from that. Of course
the biggest media, the biggest way to learn what was going on was the
markets, the live stock markets, because then you would meet everybody
else you’d all picked a bit up here and there, if there was a new
subside or a new rule coming out it would be discussed in the bar and
everybody that went was switched on. And of course that’s gone.
Presumably farmers go to the market, did the frequency with which they
went to the market, did that change over your farming livelihood?
Hawes: Well definitely, yeah, because the markets gradually shut down.
Um, I used to be in the markets at one stage, I would have been in the
markets five days a week, because as I said, I also digressed into the
meat trade so I was purchasing livestock as well as selling livestock,
so I would have done a different market five days a week and from that
I was obviously meeting different people from different areas. Well, of
those markets I used to cover, there's probably, probably only Thame that's still going , and Thame's going purely by chance because a group
of farmers got together and bought it as a co-op. I think if any
survive they probably will.
What were the names, can you remember the
names of the other markets you used to go to?
HAWES: Yeah, I used to go to do Bicester
market on a Monday, err Stratford Market
on a Tuesday, umm Aylesbury Market on a Wednesday, Banbury Market on a
Thursday and, Friday, I think Andover was Friday, but Friday was a bit
of iffy day, sometimes it'd be Chippenham.
I don't know if Chippenham is still going.
I think Banbury used to be one of the largest ...
HAWES: Banbury was the largest livestock market in Europe and
Were you surprised when that closed?
HAWES: Um, I could probably see it coming. Um, with hindsight it closed
because the business wasn't there to be done. There weren't the buyers,
and without the buyers there's no point in having the market. I mean
I've been in Banbury Market when there'd be two thousand fat cattle,
ten thousand sheep, a couple of thousand pigs and five hundred barren
cows, not to mention a few bit's and other pieces that was there, on
one day. And there's be hundreds of people
there, all trading. It made a, in my opinion, a very healthy community.
That's what I used to enjoy, mixing, interacting, to me to be stuck in
one place looking after my sheep, that romantic thing is not what I
So what's replaced those markets?
HAWES: Um, I think, obviously direct selling has now replaced them
because the foot and mouth issue, really forced what was happening
anyway, probably forced it on ahead, by two or three years so people
had no option bar to sell there livestock on to the abattoirs during
the foot and mouth thing, um, producer groups, which is a good thing,
um and various co-operatives that are selling direct to the abattoirs
PRESENTER: That was Clive Hawes. Jane Bowler and her
husband raise pigs at Meadow Farm near East Hanney. She sells the pigs as
pork direct to the public, through all her farm shop and at the local
farmers market. Her son is the butcher at the farm shop and I visited
Jane at her farm, which is beside the busy main road between Oxford and Wantage.
BOWLER: I'd describe myself as a farmer, umm ...
Do you say you're a pig farmer or a livestock farmer?
BOWLER: Pig farmer, yup
That was your father’s main business, farming?
BOWLER: Yes, it was originally, yes, until he sold the farm in about
And err how old were you when he sold the farm?
BOWLER: About seventeen.
So you'd grown up on a farm had you?
BOWLER: Yeah, yes. We was milking, dairy
Did you take any part.
BOWLER: Yes, I left school to milk the cows.
At what age did you leave school?
BOWLER: Fifteen. I really, I loved it, I really used to, dairy was my
pristine, um, but then it meant spending thousands of pounds on a new
dairy parlour and we were only a small farm and my brother couldn't do
the farming for medical reasons so dad sort of thought, oh well, you
know, Jane will be off and married, you know, daughters it does tend to
be a bit like that, you know.
Was it a family farm, did you father employ anyone to work with him on
Bowler: Well that was part of it really, if you're a family farm and
you're small, unless you've got someone working, you're working seven
days a week, 52 weeks of the year. So it was either get bigger, so you
could employee people, or carry on, you know, sort of struggling on,
and, you really then, had to have a house, if you'd got, especially if
you were milking, you had to have a house for whoever it was, you know,
you had to supply a house to get a good person to work for you. I don't
think farming was in too good of a state in '67 it was.
What sort of size was the farm then?
BOWLER: It was about one hundred and fifty acres, and it was just at
that point where everybody was getting quite a lot bigger, at least
most people were, I think the dairy prices were difficult even then.
There was the milk marketing board and all that then of course. The
other thing was the milk churning. We were on milk churns then and so
it was new practices and machinery really because everybody y was going
into bulk tanks and so this was the whole scenario, that you had to
change your system really.
And you think your father didn't want to do that?
BOWLER: No, no. I think he thought it was an awful lot of money to
invest, um probably borrow to invest, that amount of money at that time.
What did he do when left farming and sold the farm?
BOWLER: Well he already had a coal business anyway and...
He was a coal merchant was he?
BOWLER: Yes, he was a coal merchant as well, and he used to do light
haulage as well, with, because he'd got the coal lorry, so it worked
quite well, because when the farm was busy in the summer, no body
wanted any coal, and in the winter when the coal was busy then it was a
fairly quite time on the farm.
That was Jane Bowler. David Orpwood is
leaving farming to work as a consultant. Foot and mouth he says was the
final straw. He produces pigs at Woods Farm near Watlington,
which are sold for fattening. I spoke with him in his farm office, and
in the background you can hear newly hatched chickens.
ORPWOOD: Well I'm a farmer, a fully time professional farmer, who's
just exiting the industry. I've had pigs and sheep. Due to the total
collapse in the industry, or the commodity price of the industry, I
couldn't continue any longer without loosing everything I've got. I
sincerely hope I won't loose my house although I'm prepared, well not
prepared, I'm aware, in the meek and misty background that I might
loose it, because of the amount of debt built-up, um ...
ORPWOOD: When I went into it, with two hundred sows...
What sort of date do you think that would that be, roughly?
ORPWOOD: When I started?
ORPWOOD: 5th November 1979, umm
Gosh, you can remember that very clearly!
ORPWOOD: Well Yeah, it was a big step in my life wasn't it really, you
know, starting up my own farming enterprise. Um, 5th November is not
difficult to remember is it, because it's fireworks day.
Is that because you had to sign a contract.
ORPWOOD: No, no, no.
ORPWOOD: It was the farm sale, farm sale, and I bought two hundred sows
at the farm sale, and the farm sale was the guy I used to work-for,
Roland Harris. He was getting out of pigs, so I bought two hundred sows
out of his business; well I think I bought ninety eight sows in pig and
um on hundred and ten guilts that hadn't
been served yet. So, yeah I went into it and I worked bloody hard, I
worked seven days a week, like I still do, unfortunately, and um, I was
on my own to start with, with these two hundred sows, on some else's
land, which I rented, umm and it was, very exciting. I'm getting out of
agriculture at the moment, I've got five hundred and seventy pigs left
to sell, that's growing pigs, all my sows have now gone, they went by,
I don’t know, the end of April, and err we built a heard up to one
thousand two hundred sows, and in the beginning of 1998 we sell what we
call straw pigs, which is a pig at 32 kilos that someone else buys and
fattens, we haven't got the facilities or the room to fatten them, and
um, we were selling pigs at £40 a piece and you know that was
good good business, um, and within six
dropped from £40 a piece to £11 a piece, which is
equivalent to two
pounds of bacon, and you know I'd got, I'd got a years supply backed up
you know from when they were bought, growing and everything, and so I
couldn't stop it, you know I couldn't say stop! You know, I haven't got
a widget factory which I can stop today, um so anyway, that gave me a
big loss. I built my business up out of profits, which I thought was
the right think to do, umm and some of it was borrowed money as well.
I'd built up a strong viable business with a turnover of a million
pounds, which in agriculture is quite a lot.
Do you know why the market price dropped so much?
ORPWOOD: Yeah, it dropped for a number of reasons. The pound
strengthened against the Deuchmark, um the
Russians, um suddenly became bankrupt and they couldn't afford to buy
any meat, so pig meat suffered, and the tiger economy went through a
depression too and they were big pig importers, importers of pig meat
and so those three things took us apart and the fourth one of course
was the EU had quite a lot of pig meat, we were over supplied of pig
meat, and we lost all our export markets, so you know, total supply and
demand, because the pig industry has no subsidy.
Was your decision to get out um, of farming, mostly due to foot and
mouth, or had you made the decision before that.
ORPWOOD: No I hadn't made the decision before that. Foot and Mouth cost
me me, um last year, on my budgeted income
it cost me, £75,600 last year … we've seen a lot of imports of
from the Continent in 2001 after Foot and Mouth was announced, umm the
Minister of Agriculture, Nick Brown, who I know well, stopped all
livestock movements for a week, um when we got Foot and Mouth in this
country, which I think was the right thing to do, um but what it did
was it opened flood gates of food coming into this country and if you
look in the first two weeks of March, every motorway was an absolute
quagmire of food, coming, you know from the Continent, and it's done
enormous damage to agriculture in this country, and it was the final
straw, I couldn't see myself to , to, to break out of, what I saw was a
spiral down of my net worth, um, and because I was so heavily involved
politically in Foot and Mouth, and because I was so depressed about the
situation, like many many farmers were, I um, I wasn't astute enough to realise the
That was David Orpwood. Marilyn Iving and her husband farm at Mill Farm, near
Church Enstone, Chipping Norton way, keep
cattle and poultry. The eggs from their chickens and ducks are sold
through the village shop. I spoke with Marilyn with her in her sitting
room. Marilyn Iving.
IVING: I always call myself a farmer, which can put people back on
their heels a bit, you know, they think you ought to describe yourself
as a farmer's wife or something, but I'm equally as much a farmer as my
husband, and he won't call himself a farmer's husband would he? So err,
I always say, you know, I'm a farmer.
IVING: We are a Marks and Spencer preferred farm. So they came round
and had a look and we had to answer a whole series of questions and
such like, and we passed their standards, so our cattle can go as Marks
and Spencer. They actually, hum, pardon, hum, pardon me, they, they go
up to Nuneaton to an abattoir there.
That's one that Marks and Spencer specifies is it?
very lucky really. I think there are probably two in the Chipping
Norton area. It's probably within, what, perhaps ten miles of Chipping
Norton, something like that. So we're very lucky that we passed. It
means that you get a slight premium, and of course your got a certain
market, you know, which is very good, because you know, if you sell to
an, um, abattoir which doesn't specialise, then they are dependent on
people buying on that particular day, and um if they've got a lot
buyers then the prices is up, if they've only one or two buyers, then
they have a lot of, what you might call over production and the price
falls. Whereas sending them to the Marks and Spencer place then you
know what you're going to get and it's not going to alter.
You told me about your three children.
And, they all work off the farm. Do you think any of them will take
over from you, farming here?
IVING: I rather doubt it.
And what do they say about farming?
IVING: Har, har,
I think they have a rose view that they would love to bring their
children up on a farm, but um they
wouldn't want the hours, they wouldn't want the returns, and I don't
think they would want the um, the gamble of it, you know, the
insecurity really. They've got good jobs, as I say, with good money,
and really they're better off, doing what they're doing. There isn't
anything much on the farm which you can do by pressing a button. Most
of it involves, when you're putting machinery on and off tractors and
things, it's quite a heavy manual job.
What do you think will happen to the farm when you retire, and you stop
farming, because although you say you're retired, you're still doing
some farming here.
IVING: Well when we pop our clogs I have an idea that the whole lot
will be lotted up and sold.
That was Marilyn Iving. Charles Peers
lives at Views Farm, Little Milton, near Oxford. Although he says he is
retired from farming in April last year, he still oversees his farm.
The farm grows organic cereals, and keeps beef and free range chickens.
He's also developed holiday accommodation and converted farm buildings
into offices for rent. I spoke with Charles as he poured over his
dinning room table. Charles Peers.
PEERS: I'm been a farmer at View Farm, Great Milton Oxfordshire since
1974, farmed all my life, mainly arable.
So initially you sold your grain to ...
PEERS: An ordinary grain merchant, whoever there was, I mean, round
here, there was one in Thame, there was
one in Abingdon, and basically speaking I dealt with them, mainly. The
one in Abingdon,
Do you remember what they were called?
PEERS: Yes. The Abingdon one was Harrison Mathews. They used to be, um,
the old jail, that's where their depot was. I remember going all round
the old jail. They had different cells, different lots of corn. And the
one in Thame was Halland
and Bush. They were taken over by a firm called Franklin's in Bedford, which was immediately
taken over by Delgetti's. And well,
they’ve disappeared. And then I thought we'd try a co-op, because
that's really the way we should be going, very much in favour of co-op
trading. And there was a company; um, well they were taken over by West
Midlands Farmers, down in Gloucester, called
Three Rivers or something. And that
worked quite well and then they sort of disbanded. We had a grain group
and it was sort of disbanded or I forget what happened, but I went back
to this other guy who was trading with a big company, or biggish
company, or a big independent company, err down in Winchester, and err
then they were taken over by Banks, err about seven or eight years ago.
I dealt with Banks Southern, which was the same company, until I packed
up really. But, it was getting to the stage where, not happy about it.
Because basically speaking with gain you see, you've got, about three
buyers, that's all. And they're just, playing silly buggers with
What are those three buyers?
PEERS: For grain?
PEERS: There's, well there's, Banks, Grain farmers and Cargill.
They're all national companies aren't they, Cargill
PEERS: Cargill is international. Banks and Cargill have joined forces
you see. Yup. So it's only, only Grain
Farmers. There was a big co-op called Viking Grain and they went bust
this year. So its, its you know, that's
some of the trouble.
PEERS: But, but, but you know there are two hundred thousand farmers,
dealing with, basically speaking, three supermarkets,
two grain merchants, four fertiliser companies. Not a chance.
Do you think they have a lot of control?
PEERS: I'm bloody sure they do. But they've got power, real power.
That's where we slipped-up in agriculture all along. We would not
co-operate. That's why the French farmers are so strong, because they
speak with one voice.
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