Giving a voice to next generation of UK’s farmers
Olivia Richardson is a Teesdale farmer who is also the chairman of the NFU Darlington branch and a member of the NFU’s Next Generation policy forum. Reporter Wendy Short went to meet her at her parents’ farm in Hutton Magna.
OLIVIA Richardson’s career path may have veered away from farming to a degree; she currently works part-time as an art and photography teacher at Teesdale School and Sixth Form.
However, her interest in agriculture is undiminished and she can often be found working on her family’s mixed farm, whether it is driving the combine harvester in the summer, or helping out at lambing time. She also keeps abreast of farming issues in the wider world, having served as the NFU Darlington branch chairman since 2018.
Having never previously considered herself a “political animal”, Miss Richardson’s involvement in the NFU has seen her interest grow and she also takes an active role in the lobbying organisation’s Next Generation programme.
The 27-year old attended the European Council of Young Farmers conference last year.
“When I wrote up a report of my trip for the NFU magazine, the editor contacted me to query my statement that the average farm size in Slovenia was six hectares, but in fact that is correct,” says Miss Richardson.
“It is no surprise that it proved to be a challenge to find policies to suit all of the EU member states, which are extremely diverse.
“One of the main concerns expressed by the young delegates at the event was climate change and extreme weather, such as droughts and flooding, formed a central theme.
“The young speakers were keen to develop insurance policies to protect their incomes. One idea was to pay an insurance premium which would cover a percentage of production losses if crop or livestock performance fell below standard due to the weather.
“It was clear that the UK was not the only country where farmers had experienced extreme conditions, but I am not sure that this type of proposal would be accepted in our country.
“Another topic was the need to attract more young people into the industry and some countries described share schemes, which had been set up to make land more accessible.”
Attendance at the conference was just one of the advantages Miss Richardson has gained through the NFU, she says.
Her family are long-standing members of the organisation and her attendance at one of the meetings three years ago led directly to her growing involvement.
“When I first started going to NFU Next generation policy meetings in Westminster on a regular basis, I would make copious notes and I had to research many of the words and phrases that I had not been able to fully understand.
“Today, I feel I have a reasonable grasp of the main issues, although I still have a lot to learn.”
Aside from her three-day a week teaching commitment, Miss Richardson’s income follows the farming calendar.
She works for her relatives and a local agricultural contractor in the grass-cutting season, helps other relatives at lambing time and is a key member of the team at harvest time. She is also a regular beater on a local grouse moor.
The Richardsons operate three family farms.
Until fairly recently, there was a large beef finishing enterprise at the main steading, but changes in the market have resulted in a switch and the farm now carries a small British Limousin and British Blue suckler herd.
The first crop of store bulls was sold recently and breeding females will be marketed in the future.
In addition, there is a flock of Texel and Suffolk ewes, as well as an arable rotation which includes cereals, oilseed rape, beans and fodder beet.
Miss Richardson, who studied art at Northumbria University and went on to take a teaching qualification, is not the type of person who has regrets, but she would have liked to make agriculture her full-time career and may return to the industry in the future.
“My working life is highly varied and that means I never get bored,” she says.
“There may be opportunities to have more day-to-day involvement in the family farm at some point and I am keen to keep an open mind and consider all options.
“One of my goals in my NFU role at the moment is to introduce more fun into its activities. There is a very serious side to the remit; I sometimes feel that it is slightly unfair that non-NFU members benefit from all the work that is carried out by the organisation.
“But NFU membership is also about networking and enjoying yourself.
“We have run a successful crop competition at the Darlington branch, with the winners announced at a farmers’ ball. Hopefully, the competition will be extended to Barnard Castle branch members in the near future.
“We are also planning a summer barbecue for local NFU members, so watch this space.”