When I started on the farm in 1969 there were eight other farm hands with nine tractors and two combine harvesters. It was like a big family! Through ploughing, drilling and harvest everybody was content to work as long as it took to get the job done for the good of the farm and the overtime pay. When the work was done we all relaxed and were able to take it easy, with the various jobs of maintenance and repair interspersed with impromptu games of cricket and football. The main crops were still cereals, field beans and potatoes.
The potato crop was, for many years, planted and lifted with the aid of up to forty casual workers from the nearby mining villages but in the mid 1970’s they were replaced by a large potato harvester that required only a few casual workers who continued after harvest sorting and bagging the crop.
In 1976 the farm was integrated with a nearby farm so, with a change of management, the Swanton workforce had shrunk to 4 plus a manager / foreman. To improve the quality of the potato crop by reducing damage, the potato harvest returned to picking by hand until mechanical harvesters were improved in the 1990’s.
The machines were now bigger and more powerful so just four tractors and a combine harvester were needed. A programme of woodland coppicing and maintenance, along with sharing work with the other farm, curtailed the off-season fun. My engineering experience was now very useful and I used the farm workshop to build several machines including these folding ring rollers and this grain conveyor. The work was still satisfying and mainly enjoyable, particularly as the machinery became more ‘user friendly’ with quiet, comfortable tractor cabs and the use of more bulk handling equipment meant less manual labour.
As farming became much less profitable in the early part of the 21st century as a result of cheap imports and the market control of the large supermarket chains the best option was to hand over the day to day running of the farm to an international group who operate partnership farming. This offered particular advantages as all the farming operations, including buying and selling, are carried out using their own fleet of large machines. As a large group they have the ability to bulk buy and sell, they are able to buy more cheaply and have more choice of markets and control over them than any individual farmer.