Suffolk: We salute farmers as they feed the nation
- Credit: David Kindred
The region’s farmers have spoken of their pride at feeding the nation as the annual harvest is in full swing across the arable fields of “Britain’s bread basket”.
Today we honour the farming industry, which for centuries has determined the success of the economy, helped to shape the region’s culture – and played a huge part in feeding the nation. The machinery is bigger, more sophisticated, and hi-tech, but harvest is still all about gathering the crops safely in, as it has been for centuries.
St Osyth arable farmer Guy Smith estimates some of his land has been farmed since Anglo Saxon times.
His family have farmed at the north-east Essex site for 300 years. He is the 10th generation out on the fields.
And describing farming as central to the identity of East Anglia – known as the “bread basket of Britain” – he argued the industry still played a significant role in the region’s culture.
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“It is the continuity; the rhythm of farming and its history and heritage,” he added. “East Anglia has built up a good reputation for good quality grains and bread. We are the first link in the food chain and if you take away that then other links weaken.”
Three quarters of Suffolk’s land – some 300,000 hectares – is farmed.
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Research shows 30% of England’s wheat is grown in East Anglia, while 20% of the UK’s outdoor reared pork is sourced from Suffolk.
“But the countryside is not a museum. We can’t live in the past,” Mr Smith added. “Farming is global now. We are competing against the USA, Brazil, Argentina to survive.
“There would have been 100 workers on my farm a century ago. Now we have three. Combined harvesters have taken the place of huge gangs of horses and men. They produce 50 tonnes of grain an hour. But it makes us more efficient and competitive.”
Yet in a boon to the industry, the latest figures show the number of full-time farmers in Suffolk rose slightly from 1,885 to 1,900 between 2009 and 2011. Total labour jumped from 8,132 to 8,541.
Stephen Rash, whose family have farmed at Wortham, on the Suffolk/Norfolk border, for six generations, described the harvest as the “culmination of 11 months of hard work”.
“It’s the time of year we all look forward to,” he said. “It’s when you find out if you have made any money; when you find out if all your efforts have been good, bad or in vain. But you are putting food on people’s plates. Farming is fundamental and it is important people realise the role we play.”
Brian Finnerty, spokesman for NFU East Anglia, described farming as an “extremely important” industry.
“It’s important to recognise the harvest,” he added. “Farmers work incredibly long hours and the industry supports many other jobs in Suffolk and Essex.”