Farmer and TV presenter Jimmy Doherty has given his support to NFU Mutual's new Farm Essentials insurance for smaller farms.
Here he gives some of his insights into the world of farming.
Q. What achievements have made you most proud?
A. There’s various things which have made me proud. One of them is getting a good team together, opening our farm shop and getting to a point where you’re actually making money. Selling all our produce and having customers come back and say ‘that’s the best bit of pork I’ve eaten’ is a real pat on the back.
I’ve also just become president of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust which is a great honour for me. I love my traditional breeds because they really represent the diversity in our farming livestock and show what we have to offer the world. Wherever you go in the world there’s always a breed of domestic livestock that originated in the UK.
And I won farming communicator of the year from Farmers Weekly – that was quite cool! It was about being able to bring a positive farming message to the public which I feel is important.
But I think my greatest achievement has been to inspire younger people to get into farming. I’ve had emails and letters saying ‘because of what you’ve been doing in spreading a positive message about the industry we’ve now started our own farm’ - for me that’s really gratifying.
Q. Is there anything that surprises you about farming?
A. One thing that has really surprised me is the general public’s appetite for knowledge of how their food is grown. Unfortunately there's often a real lack of understanding of where food comes from. But they are so hungry for information, they love to hear about it.
Q. Farming is the most dangerous industry in the country, what are your views on the issue?
A. Whenever you talk to people, especially around harvest time, there have always been near misses involving falling or getting pulled into machinery and things like that. Thankfully, we’ve never had anything so serious happen here.
We have quite a stringent health and safety policy which includes induction days, ongoing staff training, and individual risk assessments on how to handle the animals we keep – including our reindeers and emus on the open farm.
But accidents can and do happen. I’ve been driving a quad before and gone round a corner too quickly and nearly gone over and it’s in those moments where you realise things could have turned bad. Or you’re lifting something too heavy on the tractor, it starts to tip - it’s only then that you fully appreciate the dangers.
It could be machinery overturning, it could be an accident in the butchery, it could be just tagging a calf and not being aware of the cow behind you. Any moment can turn into a potentially dangerous situation and you can be the best prepared person in the world but you never know what’s around the corner. It’s not just about protecting yourself, it’s about your employees and your visitors.
That’s why having the right insurance in place with the right insurance company gives you that peace of mind.
Q. Should there be additional support for farmers in this country?
A. We need to see the importance of the real value of food and the value of feeding a nation given greater prominence, but also acknowledgment of the role farmers play in maintaining the countryside.
I think if we could find a way of bringing back council farms which would assist new entrants into farming this would be a positive step - particularly if this could be supported with apprenticeship schemes. This would involve a mentoring element, where young farmers could go for advice and guidance - that would be really useful.
But you can’t say to the Government ‘can you give me some money to buy this farm?’ it’s not going to happen is it? And also, you’ve got to look at the farming industry like any other industry. It has to be economically viable.
Q. How do you think farmers are perceived by the public?
A. The attitude by the general public towards farmers in the last 15 years has changed drastically. We’ve come out of mad cow disease, foot and mouth, burning pyres of cattle, food scares - this whole negative image - to seeing farmers as the most important element in providing quality produce to feed a nation. The general public back farmers, which is great, and I think there is a growing willingness to support British farmers.
Q. Do you ever have low points when you feel like giving up?
A. I suppose there’s been times which get you down, like when your breeding boar dies, or a pipe bursts and the shop floods, or you get letters from the council saying you can’t do this or you can’t do that. There’s always those elements but there hasn’t been one time when I thought I’m going to give it all up and I think that’s the key to it. It’s easy to walk away, it’s harder to stay but eventually the rewards are much greater.
Q. Do you feel positive about the future of farming?
A. You should always feel positive about the future, no matter what. I think there’s always going to be farming– people will always need food. I think it will be interesting how food prices change over the next 25, 30, 40 years with the rise of the Chinese and Indian middle classes; the powerhouse of agriculture that is Brazil that is going to overtake the US in production; changes in technology - and where we fit in that whole mosaic. So there are challenging times ahead, but also exciting times.
For us here it’s about becoming more and more customer-facing and bringing the community into the farm. Farms always used to be in the heart of the community and for a long period they were always fenced off with signs warning ‘get out’ and ‘keep out’ and this probably caused a lot of suspicion. I think it’s time farms take their place in the heart of their communities again.
Q. Given your time over, would you do it all again?
A. There would be loads of things I’d change - maybe I’d have started off with free range chickens because they’d have been easier to deal with than pigs. Also, honey production is another good area to get into.
But I suppose there would have been different failure points and learning experiences. The things I probably would be tempted to change are those elements that have actually taught me the most - those bits that haven’t worked or have been a bit of a step back, such as putting a farm shop into the bit where all the water runs into!
If I knew everything then that I do now you might think twice about starting in the first place. The reality is that sometimes you need that naivety to start something and the knowledge you eventually gain through experience is all the more valuable.
Farmer and TV presenter Jimmy Doherty has become an ambassador for Farm Essentials - NFU Mutual's new insurance product for smaller farms.