Oxford Farming Conference

I was asked to take some photographs for an exhibition on the theme of diversity for the January 2024 Oxford Farming Conference – ‘diversity’ meaning both social diversity, and diversity of farming enterprise. It was a treat of a job, an excuse to wander the length of Britain talking to and photographing extraordinary people. What began as a continuation of the images I’d already taken while researching Field Work billowed out into something closer to a record of farming now. Here’s a few.

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Young farmers: why agriculture is booming

Long hours, intense physical labour, low pay and foxes in the hen house: who’d be a farmer today? A growing number, it seems. We enters a brave new world of drone tractors and designer sheep

At the Three Counties Show, the shearing competition is in full swing. Tucked into one corner of the vast showground in Malvern, Worcestershire, is a stage into which are fitted six little booths like the starting gates on a racecourse. Each one has a number, a chalked-up name and an electrical point into which the competitors fit their shears. Six men line up and on the signal each one opens the gate, extracts a sheep, flips it on to its back, wedges its head between their thighs, bends over and starts shearing, belly first. The ewes do not seem quite as happy with this arrangement as the audience does.
Each shearer is trying to remove the fleece as quick and clean as pulling off a jersey, no nicks or cuts, and no more than three minutes per sheep (the current British record stands at 30 seconds).

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Field Work

What land does to people and what people do to land

If the bureaucrats and the incomers saw this place horizontally then Bert saw it vertically. Down through the soil and deep through the generations. He saw the boundaries between his land and the next with the same us-and-them finality a Londoner might see the hidden borders of gang territories. This field here, this tree, this beast, was as intimate to him as family, but that field there belonging to his neighbour, that was foreign land, as far from him as the Arctic. This was home, that was away. For him, Rise wasn’t an income or a classification or a family or a business or a job. It was everything.

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