Go farming, claim subsidies and buy a new Range Rover every year. That’s what Jeremy Clarkson thought it was all about. Until he started farming himself.
How refreshing it has been to watch Clarkson’s Farm – his new TV show on Amazon Prime Video – truly reflect the trials and tribulations of farming and how difficult it can be to make a living.
For anyone who hasn’t seen it, the eight-part show follows Clarkson as he takes on the management of his own 400ha farm in the Cotswolds. It’s grittily realistic – but peppered with his trademark humour.
Clearly Clarkson didn’t take the farming life too seriously at first. But he was soon bitten by the bug and the serious side gradually dawns on him – alongside the potential for huge losses his mistakes can bring.
Although well-supported financially from his media work outside of farming, Clarkson’s understanding of the importance of off-farm income will strike a chord with all of us real farmers out here. He gets it.
Having only made £144 profit during his entire first farming year, he begins to understand what all like-minded farmers have said for years: most farms – including his – cannot survive without diversification.
Hence Clarkson starts a farm shop selling a multitude of home grown products and anything else that is edible. As well as some overpriced T-shirts, tea towels and dubiously named scented candles.
In his words, he has to make the farm work and pay. Just like the rest of us.
Battles with conservationists and planning officers reveal the everyday frustrations many of us have to endure all too often. And there there are the countless pointless rules and abundance of petty red tape.
Farmers have been bogged down for years, hampered by ill-advised agri-environment schemes, out of date rules with no common sense and local councils or indeed governments that fail to understand our needs.
He admits that his natural instinct when presented with a rule is to break it. It is something we all feel too. Yet somehow over the last 20 odd years we’ve all been brain washed or just battered into submission.
Bad at business
He makes great TV but Clarkson openly admits he is the world’s worst businessman. Yet some of the mistakes he makes on screen are maybe the same as ours – only they have been caught on camera.
Hands up everyone who has bought a piece of machinery at auction that was falling to bits? I have certainly paid over the odds for something that looked good at the time but later turned out not to be. The term “sold as seen” has a lot to answer for.
The show challenges the (all too often) public view that farmers are either destroying the planet or filling food with poisons. And Clarkson naturally asks where all these crazy stories come from.
It is a TV show that questions the rules and untruths that circulate within our industry. And the daft things too. So it is no surprise when Clarkson – like many farmers – raises his eyebrows at being paid to leave land fallow or simply do nothing at all.
Increasingly during the series, he becomes more aware of his surroundings. And there is a gradual realisation that nature needs us just as much as we need it. Like all of us, he will have to change his business plan and adapt to this new regime.
Regenerative farming seems to be the latest buzz phrase – used to balance conservation alongside a farming system that stops using insecticides and uses minimum tillage and cover crops to enhance soil health.
Clarkson harks back to the basic days of farming where it was all about sitting on a tractor seat, hard work and trying to keep things as simple as possible. Not too much different from today – although some might say it was much easier back in the day.
A second series has now been confirmed. Let’s hope it is as good as the first. Things can only improve for Clarkson as he begins to understand modern day farming. For us, let’s hope he continues to get the farming message across.
For more opinion pieces, read about the funding for the SFI.