Family Farming in the UK: Perspectives from 3 generations
Working together and sharing skills, knowledge and experience is vital for the Wilkin family, who farm as a partnership with grandfather Mick, son Andrew, son-in-law Rob Sowden and grandson Peter.
The family, who farm about 800 acres of tenanted, owned and contract-farmed land around Welwick, Hull, grow wheat, barley, oilseed rape and peas. They also operate a drainage business, working on behalf of the Environment Agency and local farms.
They explain how working as a family has helped them grow their business, and how they think their business and the industry will flourish in the future.
Sharing expertise is key
Mick Wilkin, 69
I brought my children up with a knowledge of farming and worked alongside them, and they’ve done the same with their children.
I have nine grandchildren and they are all connected to farming in some way. They work with us on the weekends and spend the summers cutting grass or helping on the farm.
It’s the same approach that my grandparents and parents had with me: handing down their knowledge but being open to trying new things to help the business grow.
It’s good to have three generations working together. We don't always work side by side, but we share ideas about how we can best do things.
Knowledge of the land and experience is important, and I can show them things that I’ve learnt through experience, but there are other jobs where someone else will have an idea and we’ll try something new.
Technology is helping us work faster and smarter
Andrew Wilkin, 44
Technology is massively different from when I started farming 25 years ago - it’s a different world. We use GPS and do variable-rate field work which has saved us a huge amount of money and time.
But while the technology helps us do things quicker and better, the business principles and basics of farming are the same as they have always been.
You can map your field electronically and use GPS to pin-point inputs to a specific part of the field, whereas before you physically sampled soil, but the basics of growing the crop are the same as when my grandfather was doing it.
Technology is helping us work faster and smarter, but it’s only as good as the people using it. We can have as many apps as we like, but at the end of the day someone’s got to understand how to make use of the data and make decisions about how to farm. This is why training the next generation is important.
I’m confident there’s a future for young people in the industry
Peter Sowden, 17
I’m studying for an apprenticeship in agriculture at Bishop Burton College at the moment. I would like to come back and work on the farm eventually, but if it doesn't happen I’d be happy to go and work somewhere else and get as many experiences as I can. I’d like to try a bit of everything - whether that’s arable farming or livestock production - and maybe even work abroad if I can.
I don’t know for definite what I want to do yet, but college is giving me the opportunity to try different things and think about doing different courses. If I get the right training I think there will be a job for me at the end.
I think it’s good to work with people of different generations: we can learn a lot from them and we share opinions on how to do things when we’re out on the farm. If there’s a new or quicker way of doing things, we’re all happy to learn.