New Essex NFU chairman believes future looks promising for farming

PROMOTING food and farming is close to the heart of new Essex National Farmers’ Union (NFU) chairman James Hawkes.

James, a fourth-generation farmer, farms a 300 hectare family partnership on the fringes of Braintree. Eight out of 10 of his fields have houses on the boundary and he is keen to explain to the public on his doorstep why farming matters.

“I like to show what we do in a positive way, which is why we’ve hosted two Open Farm Sunday events where we’ve invited people to look around and see what goes on,” he said.

“It’s hard work but really rewarding and also very important to explain what we do.”

James, 37, studied agriculture at Writtle College and worked on an arable farm in Suffolk before returning to the family partnership started by his great grandfather in 1915.The main crops are wheat, spring barley, beans, oilseed rape and sugar beet.

He also farms in his own right, starting that business in 2004 when wheat was selling for just �64 a tonne.

“I am honoured to be elected as chairman and I really want members to get more out of the NFU. I’ve previously been involved as chairman of my local branch and on our regional crops board and have seen the benefits of membership – I would like others to participate as well,” he said.

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He has played an active role in Young Farmers in Essex, and was show chairman of Essex YFC in 2002, overseeing a challenging year when the event had to move from Essex Showground to a greenfield site in the county.

“I’m keen to get younger people interested in what the NFU does. I go to NFU meetings and people think I am young,” he said.

Away from farming James enjoys running and has just completed his first trail marathon. He says that training runs on footpaths are a good way of checking how well his neighbours’ crops are doing.

“I am quite optimistic for the future. There have been difficult times - I saw that myself when selling wheat at �60 per tonne - and there are always going to be peaks and troughs but the situation has improved and the future looks quite promising,” he said.