My Grandfather, the arable farmer
Next influence was my grandfather, who was an arable farmer. These days everyone who farms – hands up here, I’m as guilty as everyone else - drives a tractor the size of a house. The problem with those massive tractors and the weight of the machinery is that they compact the earth. And sitting in an air-con cab staring at a computer screen you become detached from the environment. So I thought I’d go back to that style of treading lightly on the land, in the way that my grandfather had done years before. And use a 1956 Ferguson diesel tractor, with no cab. Plus a pony.
Another influence is the hare – in serious decline in the west of England, where I live – because hares are one of those definitive immemorial English animals. If you have hares, you have our national landscape. Hares are the soul of the countryside.
An aversion to chemical farming
As a farmer myself, I have had a gut’s full of chemical farming. Everyone assumes that if you pour on more chemicals you’re going to get greater productivity of crop. It suddenly occurred to me: how much of that’s completely wrong? Quite a bit, it turns out … If you farm with wildlife in mind, and drop the chemicals, you can actually get more productivity but do less harm to the soil, and the environment generally. Fantastically, if soft fruit farmers have just a strip of wild flowers next to their soft fruit - food for bees, and the bees are of course pollinators - you can increase yield by over 50%. I’m not such a romantic that I ignored the financial element; I wanted to show that you can actually make money from your faming this way as well as be beneficial to Nature. A win-win.