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Backbone of Britain: Supporting Yorkshire’s countryside community

With a passion for the industry, Kate Dale really goes the extra mile when it comes to helping the rural community. Emily Ashworth meets her to find out more.

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Facing farming’s challenges

Backbone of Britain: Supporting Yorkshire’s countryside community

If you want to get something done, it is quite clear Kate Dale is the woman to make it happen. As the coordinator of the Yorkshire Rural Support Network at the Yorkshire Agricultural Society (YAS), her role is deeply embedded in the farming community, finding ways the YAS can support the industry.


She is pragmatic, understanding the dynamics of the rural community and the challenges it faces.


Kate and her husband Ben are mixed farmers at Rooker Hill Farm, Helperby, North Yorkshire, running beef and sheep across 400 hectares (1,000 acres). Their arable enterprise consists of wheat, barley, oilseed rape, fodder beet, maize and beans. They took on the tenancy from Kate’s late father in 1989 and also own some further land at Ellenthorpe, three miles down the road.


Her role at the YAS is varied, from setting up community lunches at Thirsk auction mart to providing nurses for health checks. But she has not solely worked in farming.


Kate is a firm advocate of people spending time away from the industry or from their home business to be able to equip themselves with additional skills and perspectives. For a number of years, Kate was a mobile farm secretary until taking over Rooker Hill and having sons Edward and Sam. After BSE hit, she went on to become a higher level teaching assistant at a local primary school, which fuelled her passion for engaging children with the countryside, food and farming.


“I wanted to come back to my farming roots when things in education started to change,” says Kate. “The education side is something the YAS has been working on for a long time, so when the support network job came up, I thought it offered an attractive proposition.”


Having spent much of her life in the industry, the changes she has already seen have prompted her to think about farming over the years and those to come; the challenges and shifts in the industry, and the YAS’ pivotal role in such times.


She says: “In my lifetime I have seen much change. I look back and the last 30 years have been pretty mega; there are some big changes [coming] for farming.


“But I still believe we have a great amount of support from the public. Social media has driven huge change, but farming has got much better at challenging the messages which do not reflect the true picture and passion of our great farming community.


"Most farming people are deeply rooted to the earth and where they live and have a great sense of place. People envy that." - Kate Dale




“We have some articulate communicators in the industry, and in our own Future Farmers of Yorkshire Group there are individuals who are equipped to give balance and accuracy to some complicated topics.”


But Kate is most passionate about farming’s people, those who make up the very fabric of our rural areas.


She says: “Most farming people are deeply rooted to the earth and where they live and have a great sense of place. People envy that.


“We have lost so much in our rural areas, but it is always about people who are part of a place and we need to harness that and renew confidence."


Seeing organisations such as the CLA and the NFU come together to form a ‘single and powerful voice’ is, she says, key to building a more positive future, but adaptability and planning are important in forming resilient farming businesses after Brexit.


“There are going to be casualties along the way because the Basic Payment Scheme has kept some people in business, so it will be a massive change. It’s not that they are bad farmers – it’s a new system where one size does not fit all,” she says.


“The YAS offers workshops for family farming members which support personal and business resilience. These will help those who are already in the ‘planning for change’ process.


“It can be hard for the tenanted sector who don’t necessarily have options like those who own land, and I know how resistant farmers can be. Many businesses have felt marginalised because a lot operate as a one-man band.”


Kate believes there is a great desire to make the farming community feel supported. And her no-nonsense approach to acting on that is refreshing, especially in a period where much about the future is still unknown.


She says: “Yorkshire is a huge county, but the support we can offer is practical and realistic – we do what is possible.”


Kate is also clearly aware it is not just farmers who may struggle, given the challenges the industry is facing, and she is keen to ensure the society reaches out to those on farming’s peripheral – the retired or young farmers trying to catch a break or women at home.


In 2012, after what was a ‘horrendous summer’, she was approached by numerous women who felt there was not enough support for them. Kate and her sister Sue have been an integral part of the family business at Rooker Hill, and supporting women has become a passion of hers. She went on to set up the Women in Farming Network, which holds meetings for rural women – ranging from working farmers to stay-at-home mums – to get the social interaction they need.


She says: “They come and have a coffee and chat to people who are in the same position.” In 2019, the society held its women in farming conference, which welcomed more than 130 delegates and saw key female speakers from agriculture take the stage. Kate has also been part of helping establish community lunches, inviting anybody in from the elderly to mums with young children, and she has been an early instigator in setting up regular farmer health checks at a number of auction marts




Nursing professionals are brought in to help, but they require funding to do it. Fortunately, Kate applied to the Prince’s Countryside Fund last year and a grant of £10,000 over three years was awarded to enable an expansion of the health checks.


She says: “Everybody is welcome to have a quick check – people are used to seeing the nurses now and over time they have been trusted. We never turn anyone away. “The key is seeing [farmers] in their own working environment. “They have picked up a lot of pre-diabetics, but a lot of what farmers talk about is what worries them at the time.”


Going forwards, she is optimistic about how progress can be made and collaboration is something she often mentions. This is, she feels, something younger farmers should be open to looking at too. She says: “It’s about finding common ground and recognising each other’s skills. Think of all the skills people have to run a farming business. Collaboration is key going into the future.” Lately, however, the industry has seen significant marts close, places which offer that all-important communal aspect.


So, how can the society keep up to date and relevant? She says: “Adaptability is something they have always been good at, but responding to the industry’s needs as issues arise is crucial too. “Our aim is to support the farming community, make it a really practical response and provide what people are asking for. I hope my own connection with farming helps, too.”



Click here to read more from #ProudToFarm



Carol worked in soft furnishings and had a thriving business in the 1990s with her own workshop.

She was not from a farming background, but embraced the rural lifestyle and together they moved to Wales in 1997.

They rented a holding with land and its own parlour, and Graham was delighted to be able to farm in his own right.

They had a herd of 40 Ayrshires and Holsteins.

He says: “We had very little quota.

It went silly as far as price was Moving to a Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution flat in central Bury St Edmunds was an enormous lifestyle change for 78-year-old retired farmer Graham Meaden and his wife Carol.

Clemmie Gleeson finds out about his journey through farming.

concerned; towards the end before we could sell cows, we had a period of having to buy quota for £1/litre and getting about 40ppl for milk.” The couple’s business ended up going into administration and it was a bitter blow.

Graham says: “I was devastated having to sell the cows.

It was a pretty awful time.

I had never been a man to chase money, but I always lived well up until then.” The couple found a house to rent in Clun, Mid Wales, which, although run down, they could see they ‘could one day keep a few sheep there’.


"I was devastated having to sell the cows."

To make ends meet, Graham took a job with a textiles company working on their machines.

He managed the change of lifestyle fairly well, but struggled with late shifts, having been used to early starts as a farm worker.

But, Graham says it brought in the money and they managed to save up to buy a small flock of sheep.

They found a four-hectare (10-acre) smallholding available for rent near Welshpool.

Although the rent was not affordable, the owner offered it at a greatly reduced price if Graham milked his cows every other weekend.

“So, we started again,” says Graham.

He and Carol grew a flock of Texels to about 45 and he supplemented their earnings with a job for a local ice cream manufacturer.

Graham says: “Every Friday night I would pick up my money; that was how we had to look at life.” He retired at 65, but continued with his own sheep and milking the landlord’s cows.

He says: “They had 200 Holsteins and it was totally different to what I had been used to before.

There was very little hand feeding and you had a machine to spread straw too.” Graham and Carol decided to change to native breeds in 2014, as the price of Texels had increased beyond their reach.


Click here to read more from #ProudToFarm

Graham’s choice was Dorset Down, while Carol started her own flock of Hampshire Downs.

But during 2017/18, Carol suffered health problems and had to wait a long time for surgery on her shoulder.

It eventually happened during lambing in 2018.

Juggling hospital visits while also overseeing lambing was enormously stressful, says Graham.

“It was the worst lambing I ever had and I lost more lambs than ever before.” Graham was beginning to wonder how much longer they could sustain their holding when they were dealt a further blow in January 2019.

His pension payments were reduced and the landlord suggested he would like to increase rent.

With a heavy heart, Graham and Carol decided that their only choice was give their six months’ notice and move on again.

It was an anxious time, unsure if they could even afford to rent.

He says: “The younger generation in farming is earning good money, while our generation was stuck with tied houses and poor money.”


The local Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) welfare officer had been keeping in touch with the couple and suggested applying for a RABI property, as they were at risk of homelessness.


"The younger generation in farming is earning good money, while our generation was stuck with tied houses and poor money."


In the spring they heard the news that a flat had become available in Bury St Edmunds and Graham admits he was not at all sure about living in a town centre.

But when they arrived at Manson House, he instantly liked it.

The site has a care home with 31 en suite rooms, plus 23 retirement flats, all standing in ‘delightful gardens’.

Those living in the flats can be entirely independent or join in with activities and visits if they wish.

Graham and Carol have settled in well with Bailey, their Welsh springer spaniel, and have started to get to know some of the other residents, most of whom were all involved in farming in some way.

Graham says: “I’m struggling a bit with not having much to do.

I walk Bailey a lot and sometimes visit the Abbey Gardens, but I would dearly love to be looking after some sheep.

“I have been exceptionally lucky with my health, but that can all change.

It was the right choice for us to come here.”


Click here to read more from #ProudToFarm

Word from RABI

IN today’s world there are so many challenges people must face in later life and health issues can be draining, both physically and mentally.


However, RABI supports farming people and their families throughout their lives, not just while they are working.


We run two residential care homes of our own, and also support many other families by paying care home top-up fees.


We can all expect to live longer nowadays – and making the move into a residential home should not be something to fear. Rob Harris, RABI communications manager

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