Posted: 28.03.20 at 12:12 by The Editor
Producing food for the population is a key role, pandemic or otherwise but one Peninsula farmer certainly does not consider himself to be ‘in the firing line’ in this Coronavirus outbreak.
For farmers like Will Wrinch, one of the younger members of the Wrinch family, which has farmed on the peninsula since 1840, getting out into a field to produce the food that ends up on the nation’s tables is an everyday occurrence.
Yes, farming is vital but due to the nature and location of the job, Will sees himself as incredibly lucky to be able to carry on doing the job he loves through this time, while others might not be able to.
“What we do on the farm, we do every day,” said Will from Harkstead.
“The challenge NHS workers are facing at the moment however, is unprecedented, they are putting their lives on the line for us even more so than usual and that is something we are so grateful for.”
Will has also been touched to see the local community rally together at this time too. His mum Liz is part of the Erwarton & Shotley Good Neighbours Scheme and the team have never been busier with people offering to check up on and drop off prescriptions for the vulnerable who are stuck indoors.
“The job of a farmer or farm worker involves quite a bit of social isolation in any case, so this is nothing new to us – it isn’t unusual to not see a single person when you are working from a tractor cab all day” said Will.
The lock down situation has still changed working practices on the farm though.
“There are eight of us altogether on our farm, so we have taken sensible precautions to ensure team members do not come into contact with each other unnecessarily.”
Will explained that normally, team members swap from tractor for tractor for different jobs, but now everybody sticks to one tractor to minimise risk of spreading the virus. All team members have been given sanitisers to keep themselves and their tractor cabs clean.
“In normal times, we all meet in the yard at 7:30am each morning to discuss tasks for the day and have a chat. We think nothing of how close we stand. Now we all make sure we are stood well apart and practically have to shout ‘good morning’ at each other.”
Will hopes these small changes in working practice will help to keep the team operating during one of the busiest times of the year when the land is being prepared and crops are being drilled.
Though Will is modest about the role of farmers during this crisis, we have all seen the shelves laid bare in the supermarkets over the last couple of weeks.
At Ness Farm alone, the Wrinch family grow potatoes, onions, sugar beet, winter wheat, spring barley and oilseed rape, which in food terms is potatoes, onions, flour, beer and oil.
“Everyone has to eat we so we will do what we have always done. We always try to produce the best yields from our crops whilst protecting our most valuable resource – the soil, so we can continue to provide quality food year in, year out’ added Will, the sixth generation of Wrinch farmers.
Farmers have definitely noticed a rise in demand. The farm in Erwarton not only supplies national supermarkets, but also local shops, such as Manish’s Premier store and the Bakers Arms pub.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook for sacks of spuds – we normally store about 1,500 tonnes of potatoes but even we have now nearly run out”, said Will.
“It does just show how important farming and food production in this country. I also hope that when this is over, the public will continue to shop locally at butchers, fishmongers and farm shops for UK grown produce, rather than cheaper, lower quality imports.”
“While it does not compare with the pressure being faced by front line care workers at the moment, it is true that this was a difficult winter for farming” said Will.
Weeks of extremely wet weather meant that drilling and planting many Autumn crops was delayed, which is why the team at Ness Farm are even busier planting more spring crops than usual at the moment. But, the sunny, dry weather we are having right now means they can crack on and hopefully catch up on where they should be to ensure good yields.
Farmers are always planning cropping months, seasons and years ahead.
“Right now, we are planting Spring crops, potatoes and sugarbeet now for harvest in August right the way through to next February in the case of sugarbeet.”
Apart from one team member from Lithuania who has worked for the Wrinch family for more than 11 years, the farm employs mainly local people when possible.
However, at peak times more European labour is used for jobs like grading onions and potatoes. But, Will stressed “If there are any locals who would like to come and work on the back of the potato harvester in the Autumn, they are always welcome.”
Will, and his team may play down their role, but there is no doubt that farmers are key workers, all year round; for the food they produce, the employment they provide and protecting and preserving the land on our beautiful Shotley Peninsula.