One of the reassuring things about growing up in England in the 50s and 60s was to hear ’On your farm’ broadcast every Sunday morning from some farmer’s kitchen. The farms chosen all seemed to be fairly well to do. I don’t recall hearing too many hard luck stories. They were the days of growth through shrewd acquisition (getting your son to marry a farmer’s daughter might be a god strategy), selective plant and animal breeding, developments in fertilizers and pesticides and specialization. The main comfort of the programme was the homely fried breakfast shared with the presenter. The full works - bacon, sausage, black pudding, eggs (from the farm of course), home made bread and marmalade. The 'farmer’s wife' even got to speak sometimes about selling eggs or making jam or the Women’s Institute. If there was anything controversial then I don’t remember it. There were no farmers growing exotic vegetables in polytunnels for upmarket restaurants and no farmers with home counties accents on the Welsh borders. If the programme was from a farm in the Dales, the farmer had a Dales accent and was called Metcalfe or Foster. If you were in Lancashire then the farmer would speak like George Formby. In the Lake District, it was always raining and Beatrix Potter had lived over the hill. All the farmers sons worked on the farm and everything was rosy.
I knew that the programme showed a sanitised version of farming and farmers. If they had gone round my Uncle’s farm, which they never did, then they would have been subjected to a thoroughgoing analysis of rural philosophy, politics and economics littered with sufficient rude words and sounds to keep the vicar from visiting. My Uncle wore a wide brimmed hat (that was buried with him when he died) and referred to anyone who attended school after 14 years of age as ‘Professor’. He was not short of opinions and smelled of pigs and tractors all year round and additionally of soil, cabbages, peas, potatoes or straw according to season. It would have made excellent radio - for a late night adult audience.
In retrospect, those were the years when the landscape changed out of all recognition. Where I was born the mixed farm became a rarity and farmers made a better living specializing in growing wheat at the cost of flattening hedges and filling in ditches and draining wet fields. There was a chemical answer to nutrition, pests and weeds (insects and wildflowers?)
Things have changed and ‘On your farm’ gets out and about into the fields and woodlands a bit more and discussion of the fried breakfast no longer takes up the time. In fact several years ago I remember hearing the Duke of Westminster interviewed for the programme in his office on his Chester estate. The presenter described the scene, the small office and the cup of black coffee in front of the Duke. The interviewer enquired hopefully if the Duke was maybe going to have breakfast later. 'This is my breakfast.’ said the Duke to the deflated journalist.
Whatever changes the programme has undergone, the format of getting real people to explain their working lives in their own voices has not changed. As I listened to this weeks programme, I was cheered to hear Martin Colledge (the man who runs Forests in NW England for the Forestry Commission) explaining how grazing of felled areas in Whinlatter Forest is resulting in a return of native wildflowers. The twist in this weeks particular story is that the farmer who owns the cattle does not actually have a farm as such - he rents out his stock to graze sensitive areas. An excellent programme and if you weren’t awake at 6.30am on Sunday, then listen now!