Swapping the fast lane for tramlines, motoring journalist turned arable farmer Jeremy Clarkson tells Olivia Midgley how he is getting to grips with rural life.
WHILE some farmers in their 60s may be considering taking their foot off the gas, Jeremy Clarkson is just getting started.
The broadcaster and motoring journalist recently took his 1,000 acre Oxfordshire farm in hand and his new Amazon Prime series Jeremy’s Farm shows the new entrant start from the ground up.
Guided by a cohort of agricultural associates and with a copy of Farmers Guardian by his side, the programme follows Clarkson as he drills and harvests his first crops, lambs a ‘costly’ flock of sheep, battles the worst autumn floods in decades, becomes the victim of rural crime, opens his diversification Diddly Squat Farm Shop and deals with the coronavirus pandemic.
The South Yorkshire born broadcaster, who started his journalism career on the Rotherham Advertiser, has lived in Chipping Norton in The Cotswolds for many years and has written about developing the farm for ‘all sorts of inheritance tax reasons’, in his column in The Times.
But when his local contactor retired, he decided to run the arable operation himself.
“The farm made no money, it did not cost any money, it was just a nice thing to have,” he says, whose first kit purchase was a Lamborghini tractor.
“It was run by a chap from the village who was a farmer, and then when he was retiring, I suddenly thought, ‘I can do that’.”
He quickly discovered a farmer must be conservationist, scientist, shepherd, shopkeeper, midwife, engineer, accountant and tractor driver, often at the same time.
“It is phenomenally difficult,” he says, adding help and advice from the local farming community had been ‘invaluable’.
“In my mind, you put seeds in the ground, weather happens, food grows and I would go on a skiing holiday, but that is simply not true.
“We did put seeds in the ground – I am looking at a four-acre patch over there – and nothing grew. Nothing.
“It is a very, very complex business. I know of no profession that requires you to be so multi-abled.
“You have to understand soil, weather and science. You have to be a mechanic, a midwife, a businessman, an agronomist, and a water diviner. You also have to be a gambler.
“My only qualification is driving around corners too quickly while shouting, which is of no use at all.”
As any farmer knows, the weather can be your best friend or your worst enemy, but 2019/2020, with its wet autumn and extraordinarily dry spring was a particularly tumultuous period.
The programme shows Clarkson, guided by local young farmer Kaleb Cooper, struggling to drill seed as the farm, which sits 700ft above sea level, becomes ’a quagmire’.
Clarkson’s thoughts on farming:
On drilling crops – ‘It is like machine gunning the ground’
On castrating lambs – ‘Welcome to Little Bo Peep’s torture chamber’
On the notion of ‘sustainability’ – ‘It is a misused, made up Thunberg word’
On sheep – ‘They are belligerent, sex-mad illness machines’
On organic – ‘If you want to spend £8 million on a cabbage then go help yourself. Our carrots will be big, bright orange and quite cheap, and that is what people want. Daylesford charges £340 for a gram of cheese whereas we are slightly more realistic in providing food for the nation.”
Clutching a copy of FG, he tells viewers he used to spend his evenings reading car magazines, but now he reads the farming press.
That week, as FG’s front page headline read ‘Biblical’, above an image of a deluged landscape, he says: “All they are talking about is the unbelievable levels of rain we have been having.
“Everyone is saying to me, ‘you could not have picked a worst year to start farming’.”
However, the former Top Gear presenter knows his hardships made for good television.
Speaking to journalists afterwards he says: “We were very lucky in a sense because if nothing had happened you would end up with a quite a boring programme. However, we ended up with Brexit, five separate weather records, and Covid.”
As well as farming in some of the worst floods in living memory, Clarkson was left with a failed field of oilseed rape, ravaged by cabbage stem flea beetle.
While he said he will keep OSR in the rotation, he says the loss of neonicotinoids was another example of the ‘crippling’ restrictions farmers had to deal with.
“Government regulations shock me. Every time I try to do anything there is a regulation that says no you cannot," he says.
“I say that whenever anyone comes down the drive in a pick-up truck they are coming to do a job and we will get something achieved that day.
“If it is a Vauxhall it is someone from the Government who has rented a car for the day and is coming to tell you to stop doing what it is you think you are going to be doing that day.”
Keen to boost his environmental credentials, Clarkson says he has worked hard to nurture wildlife habitats, creating a wetland and introducing measures such as beetle strips, owl boxes and a turtle dove mix.
But he is adamant ‘greening’ cannot be to the detriment of food production.
“Yes we could stop farming in this country and buy food from abroad like we did in the 1930s, but then look what happened.
“Do we do the best for food production without harming the bees and the birds? Yes.
“I am just trying to run the farm on a sensible keel.”
So, after 18 months of hard graft, has Clarkson got the farming bug?
He says: “I think it is honestly the happiest I have ever been.”
Clarkson’s Farm, airs on June 11 on Amazon Prime Video