Farming feature: Harvest with the Beeb

Tom Bradshaw, of W Bradshaw & Son farm in Fordham, has had a BBC film crew filming for a tv programm

Tom Bradshaw, of W Bradshaw & Son farm in Fordham, has had a BBC film crew filming for a tv programme called Harvest. - Credit: Archant

TOM BRADSHAW, chair of Colchester National Farmers’ Union, who farms at Fordham, recounts how he got on when a crew arrived to film him and his farm for BBC2’s Harvest series, aired this month

Reflecting back over the past year I think the word ‘challenging’ sums it up.

It’s not often that I complain about the weather because ‘us farmers’ have a really good reputation for never being happy, but this year I think it warrants it because every time we have said what we would like the opposite has arrived.

At the beginning of March we had a couple of days at 17C and I, naively, thought that spring was here, how wrong could I have been with the coldest March in several decades following. Then, as crops began to show more potential than we could have hoped for at the beginning of June, we were given the final kick in the proverbial with three weeks of incessant temperatures, very low humidity and no rainfall. This all followed the summer and autumn of 2012 which was one of the wettest we can remember.

For our farm this season has been particularly interesting, back in August last year I answered the phone and was very surprised when the lady said it’s the BBC here, could we come and visit. This was the start of what is now known as BBC Harvest. What a year to be followed by the cameras! The BBC commissioned a series following three farms through the season, one fruit farm from Herefordshire, specialising in Cherry production, Lower Hope Farm; a vegetable farm owned by the Burgess Family, Produce World; and ourselves as an arable farm. They also covered specific stories from other farms around the country. For three hours in September the focus of the BBC shifted to the job farmers do to bring in the harvest. The aim was to try and engage the public with what we, the farming community, are doing out in the field through the year.

Our main motivation has been to produce a series that will make farmers feel proud of what they do, and hopefully it’ll also make the general public think a bit more about the food they buy in the supermarkets – where does it come from, who grew it, how did they grow it, and how much hard work has gone into producing it?”, explains BBC producer Lucy Smith.

So at regular intervals through the season we have had the cameras turning up to catch whatever the task in hand was at the time. It has amazed me just how much time goes into producing a programme like this, the hours of footage that have been taken and how much of it is going to be discarded. This all culminated in them turning up at the farm for three days recording during harvest to give an ‘as-live’ experience to the viewer. Obviously harvest is an incredibly busy time of year without the distractions of an extra 20 people with cameras, jibs and mini-helicopters turning up. Thankfully the weather for the three days in the second week of August was fantastic, nearly too good! I always knew that they were going to need to use one of the combines for close-ups and filming but having a combine stopped when the moisture is 13.5% is testing for anyone, however patient you are.

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Reflecting back over the past year I realise I have been incredibly lucky to have been involved with the filming of this programme, it has been a great opportunity and I’m sure the memories will last a lifetime. It has also made me appreciate more than ever how lucky we are to do the job we do. Things that I have taken for granted have been highlighted to me when discussing my job with the recording teams over the year. In particular the North Essex countryside is incredibly picturesque, and not what any of the cameramen expected when they were coming to record in Essex. We have an abundance of wildlife, whether this be deer, grey partridge or the regular appearance of skylarks singing above our heads while recording was taking place.

The other thing that it has really highlighted to me more than ever is that we are in nature’s hands. Every time the recording team left they asked me what weather we required next. I can recall the weather in the first paragraph so clearly, because we have nearly always had the opposite of what was ordered! On the farm we can manage many things to the best of our ability but the factor that has the greatest impact on our production is completely outside our control. Gregg Wallace, one of the presenters, continually asked why on earth we do it, you don’t know the price, the yield or the weather? I guess the simple answer has to be that we love it!

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