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Rodney Down: Why mixed farming should be championed by all - and a fancy dress intrigue!

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It was interesting reading Farmers Guardian’s remarks on the closing of the ‘year of the family farm’. Having come from a family farm and now beginning to create my own, it is becoming more relevant as the years pass. 

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It was, however, on New Year’s Day, as our friends sat around the table eating dinner, I realised what a massive part of the countryside they are. On our table we all had at least one grandparent who was more than 90 years old.

 

What was more impressive was our host, a top Devon farming family who are supporting four generations on a farm with 120 cows. With little paid labour, they will survive the dairy crisis (soon to be named catastrophe in my mind) and really will be farming for the love of it - I know they will keep smiling.

 

I think instead of the year of the family farm, or now the year of the soil, we need to champion the mixed farm. If it was not for the beef cattle and arable enterprises things would be a little different round here.

 

Beef is the star at the moment and even at £130/tonne wheat is lending a helping hand. I guess I am as bad as the retailers now though.

 

Milk is, like in the large supermarkets, a loss leader on my farm, being supported by other lines.

 

Rodney Down, Somerset

Rodney Down farms with his wife Claire at Higher Wrantage Farm, Taunton, Somerset, with 125ha (307 acres) on a farm business tenancy and a further 323ha (800 acres) rented and contract farmed. He milks 300 Holstein Friesians and runs 350 beef cattle and followers. The farm includes 180ha (445 acres) feed wheat and 61ha (150 acres) of maize.

The cows’ real use is providing cheap calves for the beef and muck for the arable at the moment, but we will keep at it. 

 

The biggest decision of my farming career will be made in the coming months, that is whether to stay in the Arla co-op or move back to my Tesco contract on a cost of production price, thus removing all ties to the co-op and its benefits.

 

My concerns are now how long the downturn will last and the situation with the euro going forward.

 

In times of lower prosperity it is still great to encourage and see the next generation coming into agriculture. 

 

This time it is Harry, a little boy in the village who, although not from farming stock, is obsessed. He even went to his Christmas fancy dress party as me.

 

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