A warm personality and a geniune enthusiasm to highlight the diverse characters and talent in farming, Will Evans is making quite a name for himself.
Marie Claire Kidd speaks to the man behind the microphone.
Last year’s BFA digital innovator of the year is making waves in farming and beyond as his Rock and Roll Farming podcast goes from strength to strength.
In just over a year, Will Evans has established himself as a major voice in British farming. His friendly, laid-back style and undeniable enthusiasm has bagged him interviews with some of the industry’s most prominent figures, including NFU president Minette Batters and president of NFU Cymru John Davies. He has even interviewed Michael Gove, secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs, notoriously adverse to such conversations.
Will publishes a podcast each week, and has built up an archive of more than 60 entertaining and informative chats, with everyone from British quinoa farmer Steve Jones to founder of Februdairy Dr Jude Capper, and from director of the AgriFood Training Partnership, Prof Carol Wagstaff, to Will’s 95 year old grandad, who shared memories of being an 18-year-old farmer and firefighter during the second world war.
Having listened to non-agricultural podcasts for years, Will discovered farming podcasts in the US and Canada. “I just thought they were really brilliant, but no-ones doing it in the UK. Maybe I can do it.”
“I got on YouTube and listened to lots of slightly irritating American teenagers telling me how to do a podcast and I also went on podcast forums, but I don’t advise that, it was very geeky.”
There were no huge investments required, just a microphone and a headset, a logo and the music to the show. I probably set myself up for about £300.
A key feature for Will is to have a laugh with his guests. “The inspiration for this whole thing was Rob Sharkey, who does the Shark Farmer Podcast in Illinois in the States,” he explains. “He’s a great guy and really helped me out with getting this off the ground.
“He’s incredibly self-deprecating but he’s really good at what he does, puts his guests at ease, makes them laugh and gets the best out of them.”
His tongue in cheek manner can be seen regularly – take for example the time he talked to Yorkshire Dales beef and sheep farmer Neil Heseltine, a podcast he called ‘A Town called Malham’, a nod to the Jam song, ‘A Town Called Malice’.
He has used the platform to explore other kinds of digital media, for example Facetime a Farmer, run by arable farmer Tom Martin, which enables farmers to connect with teachers and schools on a regular basis. And he has become increasingly interested in mental health for farmers.
“I think social media and digital media give farmers the chance to communicate what we’re doing straight from the farm,” he says. “Ten years ago we couldn’t do that.
“I think it’s also been a game changer in terms of reducing social isolation. We’re working more hours, there are less and less people working on farms.
“My grandad says in his day there was always lots of people around but many of us can go days and weeks on end without seeing anyone. Just being able to pick up the phone and connect with like minds is really important.”
He has been impressed by the number of people who want to talk to him about mental health. “I really commend the people who want to come on the podcast and talk about it,” he says. “They’re doing it because they want to help.”
When Steven Parkinson shared his problems with depression via the podcast, there was a heartfelt response. One listener said it had encouraged them to recognise they had a problem and to seek help. “It doesn’t get better than that,” Will says.
He launched the podcast in May 2017, having never interviewed anyone before, aiming to appeal to farmers and non-farmers alike.
Will interviews somebody different every week, whether they farm big or small, conventional or organic, traditional or ground-breaking or have diversified into something totally different.
He also speaks to others in the industry - those who work for representative bodies, scientists, salespeople, journalists, agronomists, people involved with agricultural shows and events. “Pretty much anyone who has a stake in farming really.”
“I hope to celebrate some the great diversity that’s in this industry,” he says. “There are some incredible characters living this life. I want to introduce some of them, find out about how they got into farming and why they do it.
“I get frustrated sometimes with the way farmers are portrayed in certain sections of the media.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions and untruths out there and I’m hoping this podcast can put our side of the story across, so that people can make up their own minds. A lot of people speak for farmers and the agriculture industry but we don’t often get the chance to be heard ourselves and I’m hoping that this can be a platform.”
The podcast is hosted by libsyn and is available through iTunes, Stitcher app, and other digital outlets. It averages 2,000 weekly downloads, and has featured in the ‘new and noteworthy’ section on iTunes.
The show has been downloaded in 54 countries and Will has amassed 10,000 followers on Twitter.
When asked who has been his favourite interview, Will does not hesitate.
“Colin Javens, ever onwards and ever upwards. He broke two vertebrae in his back in a diving accident and was virtually paralysed but what he’s achieved and the money he’s raised is inspirational. It’s a hell of a story. He’s the most inspirational man I’ve ever met.”
Balancing the demands of his life online with his work as a farmer is no mean feat. Will farms at Lower Eyton, a 202-hectare (500-acre) mixed farm, near Wrexham.
The Evans family has been farming in the area for at least 10 generations and today Calves are bought in from a nearby dairy farm and finished, alongside 121-ha (300 acres) of cereals and has a free-range egg unit.
“I do the nearly all the interviews over the phone because I’m so busy with the farm and I have four young children,” he says. “I work during the day and do the podcast at night.”
With such dedication, it’s no surprise he has come to love the project. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it. It’s really cool. It’s about meeting interesting people you wouldn’t normally meet.”
“I want to get on farm and talk to people face-to-face a bit more. I want to keep it fresh, maybe bring in a co-host, or guest hosts, and interview more people who aren’t farmers but who are involved in agriculture, for example agronomists.”
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On winning the Digital Innovator of the Year award at last year’s British Farming Awards, Will confirms it has led to new opportunities he could not have imagined previously. “I know everyone says this but I absolutely didn’t expect to win it,” he says.
“I was blown away. I wasn’t expecting red carpet photographers. It’s just a brilliant night, one I’ll never forget.
“You don’t often get the chance to be recognised like that in your adult life. There were so many well-wishers.
“Straight away I got a lot more people contacting me. Shortly afterwards NFU Cymru offered me sponsorship which covers my costs, and I’ve had other people ask me about sponsorship. Now I have a partnership with Farmers Guardian.
“This is just something I do in my spare bedroom. To be associated with NFU Cymru and Farmers Guardian gives it a legitimacy I never expected.
“I’ve got loads of new experiences from it. I’ve been invited to the Oxford Farming Conference and I don’t know what’s round the corner.”
He is always looking for new guests, through social media, or via his growing contacts book. “I’m looking for people with an interesting story or doing something innovative, but I also like to speak to ordinary farmers, they can be equally interesting.
“I need to keep it fresh, I don’t want it to be same. One of the hardest things I’ve found is keeping it interesting for farmers and non-farmers. That will be a measure of success in the future.”
But where is the rock and roll? Apart from the theme tune, there is no rock and roll in the podcast. But, Will says, “I think farming’s pretty cool, and what’s cooler than rock and roll?”