Some recent conversations have set me thinking about the farms around Staunton, how they’ve changed in my lifetime and are set to change again.
When the twelfth Earl Ferrers put the estate up for auction in 1954 it included eight tenanted farms. The biggest had 266 acres, the smallest, Lount Farm, 39 acres. This small farm milked cows and kept pigs, as I recall. Horace Dunnicliffe and his wife raised their family, and the paid the rent, which was £95-10-0 per annum when we bought it. Their milk went to a local dairy, their pigs to Ashby market.
Today almost all of that 1192 acres of farmland, plus more elsewhere, has become just two farms. Springwood is a dairy farm, milking 470 cows. Hilltop Farm grows cereals and potatoes, plus a suckler herd on the pastures facing the Hall. The finished beef cattle go up to an abattoir in Lancashire, the milk goes daily, first to Staffordshire and then by larger tankers to Aylesbury or Leeds. Economies of scale have brought this about, but what about the dis-economies? Someone once told me that half the lorries we see on the motorways are carrying food, and I’m beginning to believe it must be true.
Both farms are run by families who were farming in the area when the estate was sold. What changes will they face in the wake of ‘Brexit’, Coronavirus, and the environmental agenda? In these unusual times, farm shops are booming, and raw milk from our neighbours at Calke Farm is seeing record sales. Will technology come to the aid of the drive for localism? Can we get a little close to a world that Horace would have recognised?