Farmer Rich Heady reflects on life under lockdown

By Headys Farm
18th May 2020

What a difference a month makes. In my last article I was discussing the possibility of empty fields, redundant grain sheds and putting my feet up over the summer due to the constant rain, but what a turnaround we have had since!

Never have I been so pleased to know I will once again spend my summer in a hot combine harvester with soggy sandwiches and warm squash.

We got the weather window, got the seed drill (planter) out and planted seed until our hearts were content…did you hear the collective sigh of relief from fields throughout the UK?

So how have current events affected life on the farm?

I generally feel a little guilty when asked this, as little has changed day to day. I get up, I farm all day and then I go to bed. On the farms we are used to spending the days on our own, working alone, and keeping away from busy places.

It’s quite humbling to be counted as key workers with British food production valued, and more people than ever taking an interest in our industry, but we do not need thanks for this.

We are privileged to continue farming which we love, whilst much of the country adjusts to huge changes, and many are putting their lives at risk in front line jobs. You may not have heard me but every Thursday I have vigorously joined in the applause from my tractor cab to show my appreciation for the dangerous and hard work of others.

Fruit, veg and dairy farmers face tough times

Some farms have been far more affected than ours. Fruit and veg farms rely on eastern European labour to harvest their produce, and with the current travel restrictions in place it is a real possibility that produce will be left to rot in the fields.

The trading restrictions have halted the catering industry, and one particularly large dairy organisation (Freshways) was geared up solely to cater for this trade. With no customers, Freshways can no longer take the milk of its suppling farms, and as the cows cannot simply be switched off, they are pouring the milk away, with nothing to show for their work.

The main effect on our farm has been fluctuating prices, high prices one week due to import problems, then low the following as retailers shut down (notably McDonalds for our beef). No one can predict what the markets will do as there is speculation of major trading countries restricting exports to guarantee supplies for their own populations first.

Leaving the ‘hungry gap’ behind…

The UK is only 60% food self-sufficient, but there is no need to worry, we are coming into the our most productive time of the year with British fruit and veg ripening in the fields, and (finally) fields of crops planted to produce wheat to make bread, cakes and biscuits, oats to make cereals and barley for beer.

At the beginning of last month with empty bread shelves at the supermarkets I hatched a cunning plan. We had a few hundred tonnes of bread making wheat in our shed, so I bought a small flour mill to start baking our own, the irony is that since then I have not managed to get my hands on a single pot of yeast!