Joyce Stubbs - Farming & Countryside
My name is Joyce Stubbs. I was Joyce Duffin before I was married. I was born in Nottingham Hospital by caesarean section; I have lived on the Easton Estate all my life. I went to Stoke Rochford Primary School and then on to Kesteven Girls' School. After that, I studied at Newcastle-upon-Tyne University and gained a B.Sc. in Agriculture. It all seems a long time ago now. I did work experience on various farms. I worked on the Estate for a year before I went to Newcastle and, during the holidays, I worked for Stubbs at Lodge Farm, Colsterworth, helping with the harvest, driving tractors, stacking bales and so on. I met my husband, David Stubbs, whilst working there. His family have farmed at Colsterworth since 1955. David himself was actually born at the farm in the days when people had their babies at home, and unfortunately he died there last year. When we got married we lived in Keeper's Cottage in the Park at Easton and then when my father-in-law retired we moved to Lodge Farm. I had two children, Emily and Rebecca. Emily works as a banquet and conference co-ordinator and Emily is studying veterinary medicine. The land we farm is rented from a landlord. In our case it is rented from Easton Estate.
My husband's family have been tenants since they moved to the area from Nottinghamshire in October 1955. The Estate took on several new tenants in the 1950's - the Stubbs, Skeltons, Jenkinsons and Sparks all came about the same time. We farm 380 acres and are classed as a small mixed family farm. Twice a year in April and October we pay a half year's rent. On these rent days we go to the Estate Office and meet the landlord. There we discuss any problems or repairs that need attention with the landlord and pay the rent. We are a mixed farm. We grow cereals and sugar beet and keep beef cattle, not dairy, and sheep. Before my father-in-law died in 1992, there was he and his brother, David and David's brother all working on the farm. They grew wheat, barley for malting, sugar beet and kept 80 suckler cows and around 200 breeding ewes. The farm was under pressure to provide a decent living for four families especially when David and his brother married and needed to provide for families of their own.
My father was a gardener on Easton Estate and until the late 60s / early 70s, I knew more about gardening than farming. In the 70s, farming was a prosperous business to be in. My father-in-law could farm 'on the back of a cigarette packet', i.e. take simple decisions with no real budgets required. Then, we grew wheat one year, two years of spring barley and the fourth year would be either sugar beet or a grass ley. It was a four-year cycle. Farming in those days seemed very gentle, there seemed time to do jobs with care. Time, even in the middle of harvest, to go home for a cooked lunch and stop at tea-time for a picnic in the field. Time on a Sunday morning in early spring to walk the sheep over the A1 back to the Lodge for lambing. We used to have the Police come and stop the traffic while we did though. Now we are on almost continuous barley with some sugar beet. We don't rotate crops round like we used to and we have a new 'crop' at present time called 'set aside'. Between 5%-15% of the farm has to be set aside (not used for agricultural crops). Every year the actual amount is set by DEFRA (Department of Environmental Farming and Rural Affairs). At one time this area had to be rotated around the farm but at the moment we can put it where we choose, usually on the poorer land.
Farming has only been a 'profitable' business with the aid of Government subsidies. In the 1970's you got paid for what you produced. You'd get market price plus a top-up type of payment. Now these payments are being changed over to a flat payment based on the area you farm, a per-hectare (acre) payment. Nowadays harvest is done in 4 or 5 days - no time to picnic any more. Time costs too much these days to waste. David's father died in 1992 and then in 1994 his uncle died. This caused a big rethink of the farming business. It was decided to get contractors in to do the arable and David would concentrate on the livestock side of the business. David's brother left the farm to work elsewhere. David and I carried on with the farm. The main crop we grow now is barley, either winter or spring sown, grown for malting. It is grown on contract to a maltster who guarantees to buy the crop back, providing it meets quality standards agreed, and we are paid a premium price above the price of feed barley.
Winter barley is sown in the autumn and harvested the following July when it is ripe. Spring barley is sown in spring and harvested after the winter crop. Some of the crop goes off the farm at harvest and we are paid for it a month later. The rest of the crop is stored on the farm until the maltsters call for it but it is usually gone by January. The contractor looks after the crop from sowing to harvest, orders seed, fertilizer and sprays but I pay all the bills as they are due. The contractor brings his own machinery, sprayer and combine etc, big tractors, seven-furrow ploughs, everything big and new and up-to-date. The other crop grown at present is sugar beet. Again this is grown on contract to British Sugar. At present we can produce 460 tons of beet with a sugar content of 16%. Sugar content depends on the weather. A warm, dry summer tends to produce higher sugar contents of maybe 18-19%, whereas wetter ones may reduce the sugar content by a similar amount but produce bigger beet. It used to be quite a labour-intensive crop. The seeds used to be in clusters, several seeds growing together, and these had to be singled out to leave just one plant to produce one large beet. This was done by hand, men hoeing through the crop. In my father-in-law's time, Irishmen used to travel round the farms to do this. The crop would also be hoed using a hoe behind a tractor taking 5 or 6 rows at a time and then harvested one row at a time. Nowadays the seed is processed so that only one seed is left in the cluster before it is sown and very specific sprays control the weeds. At harvest time, one big self-propelled machine harvests our 20 acres in one day. Our beet all goes to the beet factory at Newark where it is processed into sugar.
The future of this crop is uncertain at the moment. Two of the beet-processing factories have been closed and this year British Sugar has reduced our payments for the beet by about 30% from just over 30 to 20 a ton. If costs keep going up and product prices keep coming down, I don't know how much longer sugar beet will be grown, even with the Government acreage payment. Over 2 years ago, David was taken seriously ill with lymphoma and unfortunately died in April 2005. Since then me, Emily and Rebecca have decided to remain at the farm. I still have contractors doing the arable side of the farm and I look after the animals. I have cut the cows down to 30 now and 2 stock bulls (a Simmental and a Blonde D'Acquitane), keeping the offspring and fattening them up to sell for meat, usually when they are a year to 15 months old. Last year I sold the fat cattle at Selby market. Selling stock at market is pretty easy. You organise transport using a livestock haulage specialist and turn up at the market. It is usually best to provisionally ring up the market and book your stock in so the market knows when they are coming. The advantage of selling at market is that you come home with your money on the day but you have to accept the price on the day or else take them home, paying for transport to take them home again.
We don't have dairy cows; I have to buy my milk at the Co-op like everybody else. I have reduced the breeding ewes to around 150 including 10 Lincoln Longwools. These usually lamb at the end of March and produce, on average, what works out at about 1.6 lambs each. This year I sold all the lambs fat at Melton Market about 20 a week when they were ready. In spring and early summer, they are usually a good trade but as the summer progresses, more lambs become ready for market and the price falls away somewhat. Livestock movement is a nightmare really. No bovine (cattle) or ovine (sheep) can move without paperwork. All cattle have individual passports, a little book, and wherever they go, the little book goes too. Each animal is allocated a unique number to identify it and on which farm holding it was born. Each animal has 2 ear tags with these numbers on, one in each ear. Calves should be tagged within 7 days of being born, which isn't easy when it is born in the middle of a field and the mother won't let you near it! And then when she does let you near, she knows that it is now sharp enough for you not to be able to catch it. Cattle have always had a holding number tagged in their ear, but since B.S.E. these new passports were introduced to trace cattle in case of another disease outbreak. When an animal is moved on or off a farm, not only does the book have to go with them, but the movement has to be reported to the BCMS (British Cattle Movement Service) which is in Cumbria, either through the internet or by sending off a postcard which is in the back of the passport. Sheep, at the moment, need only to be tagged with the farm holding number that they are on but when they are moved their movement has to be reported to the local Trading Standards Office. If any animal is moved on to the farm, it cannot be moved out for 6 days and they do check up on you. A breech of the rules is serious. These movement rules were introduced after the last foot and mouth outbreak, although previous to this we did have to keep a record of animal movements on or off the farm. We have 5 tups, 4 Suffolk tups which are short-wooled types with black faces and legs, and a Lincoln longwool tup which is a big sheep with long wool even over its face.
We used to have cross-bred ewes, big speckledy-faced sheep which were either Border Leicester or Cheviots crossed with a Suffolk. Now I am changing over to mules. They are a bit flighty and will escape through any weak fencing but they are very prolific, usually having pairs, and always have plenty of milk. They are quite light and easier for me to handle. I keep 10 Lincoln Longwool ewes which I breed pure. They are a rare breed now and not a commercial enterprise really. I keep them because I live in Lincolnshire. Besides the cows and sheep, we have a sheep dog that's not brilliant at her job but better than no dog at all, and a Jack Russell just for fun! I did have a few chickens but I am down to one and a cockerel - the fox had the rest. Oh, and 2 ponies, Bonny and Briar Rose. As for the future, well my eldest daughter, Emily, is definitely not going into agriculture and Rebecca, although she is into farming, I think her career will probably take her away from home. I don't know what will happen to the farm when I retire but for the time being I am still happy living here. You're your own boss and I like working outside, well most of the time anyway. When it is pouring down with rain and blowing a gale I sometimes wonder why. Some of the best times here on the farm are when you see a calf born and at lambing time. Also when we start the harvest and I like the smell of the soil when the plough goes in and the sight of the seagulls following behind. In fact it's all pretty good, and I wouldn't swap it for any other way of life.