My Herts Life: Stewart Hunter
PUBLISHED: 20:19 07 April 2014 | UPDATED: 20:19 07 April 2014
The president of the 2014 Hertfordshire County Show remembers his remarkable journey into the Hertfordshire farming community and looks forward to the 128th show
When and how did you begin farming in Hertfordshire? My family started farming in Hertfordshire in 1960, following our life-changing decision to move south and leave our family farm in Stranraer in the south west of Scotland. Our move involved hiring a steam train from Scotland to Berkhamsted station for about £500. We left Stranraer in sunny weather in the evening and arrived 12 hours later at Berkhamsted station to be greeted by both pitch-black darkness and lots of farming friends waiting to help unload our prize-winning 140 Ayrshire herd, 40 sheep, 12 pigs, chickens and a prize bull together with ‘our family home’ including beds, settees, carpets, curtains, gramophone (including my precious Perry Como record collection), a car and a van.
In 1963 we moved from the Berkhamsted farm to our current home at Pursley Farm in the village of Shenley, near Radlett. Our family runs an arable enterprise covering 3,000 acres of combinable crops across 12 farm units, including wheat, oats, oilseed rape, beans and barley. When I say a family run business, I am including my wife Nancy and our two sons. In addition, we have a granddaughter and four grandsons, all helping and wanting to be little farmers. How good is that?
What have been the big changes in your time in the industry? The biggest changes I have seen in farming is the progressive increases in automation resulting in less farm workers employed, but significantly increased productivity, which has stabilised the cost of food for consumers. I have been saddened by the demise of dairy herds reducing to just six or seven producing milk in Hertfordshire today. Unfortunately, the buying power of the big supermarkets combined with their generous profit margins has devastated this previous local business.
What are the joys of farming? And the challenges today? The joys of farming are that it offers a good healthy outdoor lifestyle and the satisfaction of providing quality homegrown food for UK consumers. It is very encouraging to see the significant change in consumers interested to know where their supermarket food products come from. No doubt the most recent supermarket meat scandals have highlighted the need for increased identification and quality controls. This overdue stricter management legislation is of course very good news and a win-win situation for both food buyers and farms respectively.
You have been chosen as this year’s Hertfordshire County Show president – what does the event bring to the farming community and wider public? Our county can be very proud of the Hertfordshire Agricultural Society, a registered charity established in 1801, to support the promotion, education and better understanding of farming, agriculture and the country way of life in Hertfordshire today. This objective is achieved by organising the annual Hertfordshire County Show – widely acclaimed as the largest and best value for money combined rural and urban community event in the county. This year we celebrate our 128th annual Hertfordshire County Show and the theme is ‘Showcasing the Heart of Hertfordshire’. We are looking forward to the show with both confidence and our renowned society enthusiasm, and, with a little help from the weather, to welcoming another 34,000 visitors over the busy show weekend.