Across the land, farmers of a certain age are scratching their heads and pondering the future.
Historically, farms have passed down the family line for generations. But things are changing.
“Lots of the farmers I know reckon they will have to sell up. Their kids have seen how hard it has become for their parents and don’t want to follow in their footsteps. They want less stressful jobs with better wages and 9-5 hours. They don’t want to work all hours God sends,” says Andrew Clark.
The pedigree beef breeder has no such worries. His son of 14 is already snapping at his heels.
Matt Clark believes he was born to step into his father’s green wellingtons and raise prize Limousin cattle in the rolling fields of Ringinglow.
He was two weeks old when he went to his first cattle market, stays up through the night with cows in calf and is already a show champion numerous times over.
“He has a real ability,” says proud dad Andrew, 46. “He was told he was dyslexic at Silverdale School but has flourished since moving to Hope Valley Agricultural College. My proudest moment was when he won at the Great Yorkshire Show last year, seeing him with the confidence and the knowledge to address a stock judge 40 years old in the ring.”
Says Matt: “Lots of kids don’t know what they want to be but I’ve always known. I want to carry on our farm and breed the best pedigree bulls and cows.”
Andrew knows exactly where Matt is coming from; he too has never wanted to do anything else but take over from his farming father.
It was his dad, Robert, who is responsible for the Clark family getting into farming back in the 1950s. At 18, he persuaded his dad, also Robert, to buy 56-acre Hangram Lane Farm for £69,000 as premises for the family steeplejack fabrication business.
Robert senior was happy; the company thrived, his other two sons joined the business and he himself had land on which to raise the shires and racehourses he bred as a hobby.
But it was Robert junior who was really in clover. He set up his own dairy herd. “All my dad ever wanted to be was a farmer,” says Andrew. “He was desperate to be one. He grew up in Ringinglow surrounded by farms; all his friends were farmers.”
But when one of his brothers fell ill, Robert junior was called into the steel business. To keep the farm going, he sold his dairy herd, bought in suckler cows and began rearing less labour-intensive beef herds.
Andrew, eager to take over, left school at 16, studied at agricultural college and came back with big plans.
“I didn’t want to simply buy calfs, fatten them up and sell them on; I wanted to breed our own herd. I’d always wanted Limousin cattle from Limoges in France. They grow like mad and produce very lean meat.”
He paid £1,600 - three times the price of an ordinary breed - for his first pair, Hope and Lisa. “I thought I’d given the earth,” he says.
There are now 240 acres, filled with the glowing, gold-red backs of over 200 pedigree Limousins, plus also a flock of 80 pure-bred Texel ewes and, come the run up to Christmas, 1,000 turkeys. A small farmshop sells potatoes, eggs and fresh vegetables.
Says Alison: “It’s very hard work but we love our farm and we love our cows. Our life revolves around them. A family day out? It’s to a cattle market. We go on holiday to France especially to see their pure breeds.”
There is much for Matt to take over. But there is no pressure.
“I want Matt to get his qualifications, go and work for someone else and travel the world so he can find out what he wants to do based on more experiences than he has here,” says Andrew.
“If he comes back to us, it will be because he really loves this life.
“And then I hope he finds the right wife to be beside him. I couldn’t have done it without Alison. She is as much into cows as me. Her parents are farmers in Bradfield, we met at Hope Valley Young Farmers’ Club and she worked on a dairy farm.
“If I’d married anyone who didn’t have that background I’d have been divorced years ago.”
Are you at the helm of a family firm? Email Jo.firstname.lastname@example.org