This Farming Life

This Farming Life 4 promises a nostalgic trip down memory lane

THE NATION’S favourite farming programme is back on our TV screens this August – giving viewers a nostalgic look back at the goings-on of the industry before lockdown left its mark on the calendar.

This Farming Life, series four, will once more follow the lives of six farming families across Scotland and for the first time, the North of England, delving into the highs and lows of farming life and as ever boasting stunning views of some of the most beautiful farming landscapes the UK has to offer.

The first episode in part one of the series is due to air on Tuesday, August 18, at 8pm on BBC Two, with a further five episodes to be shown weekly. The second part of the series – also in six episodes – is to be shown later in the year, with the date still to be confirmed.

When the new series began filming back in August, 2019, a very different year lay ahead. Farming had come under the spotlight in debates around the environment and Brexit was the focus of political agendas.

However, coronavirus hit in March and soon Brexit discussions were shelved temporarily as the nation went into lockdown. Farming continued, ramping up its efforts to feed the nation and a housebound public rediscovered their relationship with food and appreciation of its producers and so began the buy local revolution.

The first six episodes of the series were filmed and edited before Covid -19, allowing viewers to fondly reminisce over past farming events.

The SF caught up with the BBC production team to find out more about this year’s farming stars, to hear how filming adjusted to Covid-19 and and to give readers a glimpse of what we can look forward to in the new programme.

“We had a really warm reaction to our third series and our audience figures were higher than ever,” revealed returning executive producer, Jo Roe. “Moving from 7pm to the 8pm slot, we gathered a new demographic of viewers and the programme has now become one of BBC2’s long staying, well-loved series.

“People from all corners of life seem to love it and get hooked by the personal journeys our families embark on,” she continued. “For some it is about escapism, with an intimate insight into farming life and some of the most idyllic landscapes in the UK, but we feel we reflect farming life as it is, not just a glossy magazine view but an honest account of all the highs and lows it endures.

“When we started filming it was a big year with Brexit, there was a lot of debate going on about use of land and farming’s carbon footprint, and some farmers were feeling the raw edge of that. We thought it would be the backdrop for the series and then in March along came Covid-19 and over the last few months it has taken over everyone’s thoughts,” she explained.

“One of the lovely things about this series is we experience Covid-19 through the eyes of farmers and we witness a new appreciation of what our farmers do. Quite a few of the families we followed have been selling more locally and have developed that immediate connection with the market.”

The BBC withdrew from filming early on in lockdown, but the families continued to film their movements via diary cams.

“Lambing is traditionally a busy time for camera teams and we did manage to get one or two farms that were early, but a huge amount of lambing was filmed by the families themselves,” said new series producer, Fiona Wilson, who delivered camera training over the phone to the families. “There is something special about diary cam footage, it feels really personal and you can become more immersed in the whole experience.”

Ms Wilson joined the series last year and explained what changes she wanted to make to the programme. “I have always been a massive fan of the series and had put my name forward to produce it. I wanted this series to get to know the farmers better as well as the ins and outs of farming life. It brings an extra dynamic as you develop a more personal relationship with the families, and we have some tremendous families this years in terms of characters and stories.

“We are now back out filming for the second series and there is still lots to capture with many busy with silage and we caught the back end of calving,” she continued. “We couldn’t get in vehicles with our families due to social distancing restrictions, so we miss some of those cab shots, but we have just had to adjust.

“One of the unintended consequences of this year is that we are covering a longer period of time, viewers will get to see even more months of the year.”

 

MEET THE FAMILIES

Isla and George French

New entrant farmers Isla and George French of Little Rowater Farm, join the cast of the new series, having started their 100-acre farm in Aberdeenshire from scratch four years prior. Together they run a mixture of livestock including Belted Galloway cattle, Dutch Spotted sheep, Red deer and a first for the programme – ostriches.

With three children under 5, there is never a dull moment on the farm as the young family fully embrace this ambitious new venture. When Covid hits, the focus turns to their small farm shop to meet demand for local produce.

“This year for them is a particularly important one as they need the farm to start paying for itself,” commented Ms Wilson. “They are an incredibly dedicated and energetic team and it becomes clear in the series that they are not hobby farmers but are serious about making it work as a business.”

Ms Roe added: “One of the highlights viewers can look forward to is drone footage of the farm when all the ostriches are let out for a run - it is like a scene from Jurassic Park.”

In the very first episode, viewers will be treated to special footage of the baby Ostriches hatching.

 

Isla and George French with children Joy, Felicity and George at Little Rowater Farm, Aberdeenshire with some of their herd of Belted Galloways - (C) BBC Studios

 

Joyce Campbell

Also starring in the new series is farming stalwart Joyce Campbell of Armadale Farm in Sutherland, where she farms 6000 acres of rough hill on the northernmost tip of the Scottish mainland. A third-generation farmer who looks after 800 North Country Cheviot ewes from an unbroken bloodline, spanning back 250 years. Film crews follow Joyce as she handles falling lamb and beef prices against a backdrop of changing consumer tastes.

“Joyce farms in one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland and is an iconic figure in the way that she talks brilliantly about the legacy of farming and the fact she has farmed and her forbears have for generations - she takes that responsibility very seriously,” reflected Ms Roe.

“Although she is helped a lot by her niece and nephew, Joyce opens up about working alone on the hills with her dogs and as a viewer you get a real sense of the often solitary nature of farming and the importance of feeling part of a wider community,” added Ms Wilson.

With many farming events cancelled as a result of Coronavirus, viewers can look forward to seeing Joyce and a busy ringside at Lairg lambs sales in the opening episode.

 

Helen and Graham Acreman

The third farming family featured in Scotland is that of Helen and Graham Acreman who moved from Bedfordshire 12 years ago to pursue a new life in crofting, taking on Split Rock Croft in the North West Highlands.

Together they run a small herd of Highland Cross cows, North Country Cheviot sheep and Tamworth pigs.

Last year Graham suffered a terrible accident which left him with broken wrists and a serious brain injury. The cameras follow the couple on their journey of recovery as they strive to keep the croft afloat but are met with continuous challenges such with disease striking their herd of Highlanders.

“We started filming with Helen and Graham during a year where they are working out whether they can still run the croft after a couple of major health scares and George had a bad fall over a year ago,” said Ms Roe.

“Time and again with This Farming life we have found our audiences love the crofting way of life and Split Rock Croft makes for a lovely lifestyle study.”

 

Emma Gray and Ewan Irvine

Emma Gray - known to many as the record-breaking shepherdess - joins the new series along with husband Ewan Irvine and six-month-old son Len. Viewers will get an insight in to life at Fallowlees Farm in Northumberland where they not only breed and train internationally sought-after sheepdogs, but look after 400 cross bred mule sheep and a small herd of Whitebred shorthorn, Blue Grey and Galloway cattle.

Over the course of the series the cameras follow Emma as she competes in sheep dog trials and sells her best dog Megan at the Skipton Dog Sales for a world record breaking price of 18,000gns.

“This a year of firsts for Ewan who is a firefighter and new to farming,” said Ms Roe. “He is really enthusiastic and keen to learn from mentor Emma - who is not always the most patient of teachers - but the dynamic between them is fantastic to see.”

In the first episode we see Emma preparing to compete in the English National Sheepdog trials, which coincides with the arrival of a very special litter of puppies.

 

Frank and Georgia Hunter

Father and daughter duo Frank and Georgia Hunter make up the fifth farming family of the series, together running their 600-acre hill farm on the border of Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Following a health scare five years ago, Frank decided to scale back their operation at Piperhole Farm and diversify, adding 300 commercial goats to the sheep and cattle business.

The cameras follow Georgia and Frank as they develop their fledgling business, selling goats cheese and meat in local farmers market and striving to increase their brand profile. Mum Ruth also runs a side-line in goat milk soap.

“This year we take a look at goat farming and follow the dynamic between father and daughter as they develop this new side of the business,” continued Ms Roe. “Frank is responsible for the dairy side of things and sends milk offsite to make cheese to then sell locally. Georgia received a grant from the Princes Trust two years ago and has set up the meat side of the business. When Covid hits, demand for their produce grows and we see them look to build their business off the back of that.”

 

Matt and Dani Blair

Completing the series line-up at a critical time in their farming journey are 28-year-old farmers Matt and Dani Blair from Thrimby Hall Farm in The Lake District. The cameras join them during a massive move to a much bigger farm, adding 500 acres to their existing hill operation and doubling cattle and tripling sheep numbers.

Their biggest hurdle comes when Coronavirus puts paid to the sale of their spring calves - putting the first paycheque for the new farm on hold indefinitely.

“Matt and Dani are an example of classic hill farmers and in the first part of the series we show some lovely shots of them gathering sheep off the iconic Lake District hills,” said Ms Roe. “In episode one we see them taking on a massive gamble to move to a bigger farm which involves taking out some ambitious loans and it becomes a make or break year for them.”

There is a surprise for viewers revealed in episode two of the series which add a wonderful new dimension to their journey.

Sharing some concluding thoughts on filming the fourth series, Ms Roe said: “This was my third time with This Farming Life and each time we start a new series there is always a question mark as to whether we will find new territory, new stories. It has been fantastic to go down this road again and you are constantly surprised by how many twists and turns there are for our different families.

“There is a lot of fun and humour in this series and each year we dig a bit deeper in terms of what our farmers are feeling. Series four has proved to be even richer in terms of its layers than other series.”

 

Original article by Claire Taylor can be found at: Scottish Farmer