I have come late to farming. There was no epiphany, no eureka moment watching Clarkson’s Farm. The blame lies partly with my neighbour, who’s my running partner and a fellow Pony Club Dad. He’s an agronomist and would enliven our jogs along country lanes with talk of crop rotations. In the end, that other form of muck-raking – journalism – provided the shove I needed. After 24 years at Sky TV, I joined the first presenter line-up (of many) at GB News. I went in the hope of a fresh start at an exciting new channel, only to be thrown out of it when my ratings failed to pass muster.
So, at 55, I am a student again. Or, as those who find themselves at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester prefer, an ‘agri’ at ‘siren’. Friends who went there three decades ago say it had a notoriously raucous campus culture, afloat on a sea of cider. It has changed, but only up to a point. Yes, my first lecture contained approving references to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, climate action, ‘zero hunger’ and gender equality. But out in the fields, where the university still grows commercial crops on Cotswold brash, I see something of farming’s natural resistance to wokery. Corporate groupthink, which has found fertile ground in so many British universities, struggles to put down roots here. This is partly because of the nature of farming itself. Who has time for micro-aggressions when cabbage stem flea beetle is rampant?
My course of study – the Graduate Diploma in Agriculture – has produced some celebrated farmers: Sarah Langford, the former barrister and author of Rooted, and Joe Stanley, the farming conservationist who wrote From Farm to Fork. Unlike them, farming is not part of my family history.