Bruce’s 2020 vision for next year’s Suffolk Show
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
As soon as Suffolk Show 2019 ended on May 30, a new farming heavyweight took over the reins. Bruce Kerr, of Wm Kerr (Farms) Ltd, has officially begun his three year term at the helm of the county’s biggest and most prestigious event.
Even before the last trailer packed up and left Trinity Park following Suffolk Show director Bee Kemball's tremendous 2019 finale, a new era was unfolding.
Suffolk farmer Bruce Kerr - who officially took over her role the day after the show ended on Thursday, May 30 - comes in on a high.
He's the third generation of his family to be involved in the event. He was 12 years old when his father, John, took on the unpaid job, which lasts for three years.
Bee has steered it to new highs, and Bruce hopes to continue to build on her success, and that of her predecessors, in keeping the show - the county's biggest agricultural showcase - relevant, healthy and alive.
The annual event, run by farm charity the Suffolk Agricultural Association (SAA), is a showcase for the county and the region, attracting about 90,000 visitors over the two days. While there is a small skeleton team of paid workers at the SAA to help it along, it's the huge army of volunteers from the farming community which enables it to happen. It's a major operation, and planning is key.
"You are captain of a team really," says Bruce. "In all honesty, it's a huge honour to be asked to do the job, and an incredible amount of responsibility to head up such a dedicated team of volunteers, because without them, we wouldn't have a show."
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As a vegetable grower operating along the Suffolk coast near Woodbridge, Bruce, who spent a year as Bee's deputy show director before taking on the role, has a big day job to juggle with his new show responsibilities. It's a challenge he's up for, but he has no plans to steer the event in a different direction.
"Fundamentally, it ain't broke - there are ideas that evolve naturally," he says.
Over the last 12 months, he has worked very closely with Bee and is full of praise for her achievements. After the show, there follows a de-brief in every area - around 20 in all - and a meeting in the first week in July. "The feedback we receive from those will drive what we do in every area," explains Bruce.
It was such a de-brief last year which led to creation of the new 'Farming Live' zone at this year's show, where show-goers are greeted by farm machinery at the entry gate, and taken on a journey through the crop-growing process.
Bruce, 49, has two daughters aged nine and seven, and has been involved in farming all his life.
One of four children, he grew up on the family farm started by his grandfather, William. William, the eldest son of a tenant dairy farmer, came down to Woodbridge from Ayrshire in Scotland in 1938.
A year later, his father, and Bruce's great grandfather, John, followed him, settling in Wetheringsett. There were already quite a few Scots in the area, and the family liked what they saw and settled down.
"I have been to the farm a few times in Scotland and it was very wet. Rainfall was about 90ins a year," says Bruce. Suffolk must have seemed like a paradise, with a third of the rainfall and a lot more sun.
William started by renting Office Farm, then Abbey Farm next door, at Letheringham/Hoo, and he established a pedigree Ayrshire herd.
Many years later, Bruce found his showing box - the one he would take with him to show his animals at shows around the country - and had it rejuvenated so that he could present it to his own father, John, as a birthday present.
In the 1950s, William bought the farm and the one next door, Easton Farm Park, which is now run by Bruce's sister, Fiona Siddall. William's sons, John and Jimmy, joined their father in the family business after leaving school in the 1960s. By 1962, the mixed farm had grown to about 1,100 acres. Jimmy, who now lives in Norfolk, started the farm park in the 1970s, as the farm buildings weren't ideal for modern farming uses. In the 1980s, John took it on.
In 2012, the family separated the business out. Bruce, who graduated from Cirencester in 1993, focused on the farming side. Brother, Alastair, farms and also runs Easton Grange, a wedding venue which he launched in 2013. Sister, Laura, runs a charity for people with learning disabilities in Dorset.
Today, Bruce farms about 2,500 acres of family land, but the last of the cattle went around 2010.
Asparagus is one of Bruce's key crops, which he started growing in 1995, and potatoes, which the family has grown for about 40 years.
"Potatoes have been the main focus for the last 40 years and asparagus is probably taking a punt at pole position," he says.
In 1999, he started a potato marketing business with Richard Arundel. Arundel Kerr Produce started in York and later moved to Lincolnshire. It employs about 50 staff and stores about 45k tonnes of potatoes. "We have got growers all over the country and we import and export potatoes through that business," he says.
Bruce has had a long-time involvement with the show, and spent 12 years as steward in the Farm Discovery Zone before giving that up to focus on getting an overview through his deputising role to Bee.
He is now looking forward to picking up where she left off.