February on the farm (2020)


Market Day in Banbury. c 1890

Richard Fonge writes:

February continues to follow the pattern of this winter’s continual wet weather, with only hedge trimming being carried out in the fields around Sulgrave. As I have noted before the lack of crops sown is now becoming serious and could have consequences in the price of bread and breakfast cereals later in the year.

The field off the Helmdon Road on the Stuchbury footpath is stocked with some of last years female lambs (ewe lambs), these will be put to the ram next autumn to have their first lambs in the spring of 2021. With them are a few older sheep all with a purple mark on their shoulder. This denotes they were not pregnant when scanned for whatever reason. As a farmer and running a business, a decision has to be made to either give them a chance to breed again or sell for meat. Hard choices but sometimes sentiment has to be avoided.

Last month I looked back to the hard winter of 1963, and parking my car near to the Mill Arts Centre the other day reminded me of the many journeys in the early sixties of taking oats and barley by tractor and trailer in hessian bags to Lampreys still as it was then to be ground for animal feed and then returning with the previous consignment. It was a very busy mill supplying farmers in a wide radius of Banbury.

Banbury back then was a market town and remained so until the M40 came in the late eighties. It had the largest stock market in the country, with sales of stock on three or four days a week. It is amazing to think now that cattle would be driven through the streets of Grimsby to the fields up Overthorpe hill and back for sale at a later date. Steers of eighteen months or so of age arrived from Ireland on a monthly basis by ferry and train from Holyhead to Banbury and then sold on to be fattened on the good pastures of the area.

With all the many farmers coming to the market, there were five agricultural engineers and four corn merchants as I can remember, plus many other businesses catering for the agriculture industry.

So like Banbury the population of Sulgrave has changed, reflecting the change in the modernisation of the industry, with fewer needed to work the land.

The challenge to farmers and land managers today is to balance the environmental needs with food production whilst keeping a low carbon footprint.

Richard Fonge



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