Clarkson’s Farm enjoyably depicts the real challenges farmers face - but Jeremy Clarkson himself can be a liability, The Country’s UK farming correspondent, Tom Martin writes.
I can tell when people are about to ask the question. It is often near the end of a conversation. They shuffle a little and an air of discomfort descends; an internal struggle takes place as their curiosity wrestles with their fear of offending me.
But they always do ask in the end - ”What do you think of Clarkson’s Farm?”
I’m ready, of course, for the question. So here’s my answer in print; a “reply all” for those of you who might feel the urge to ask.
Jeremy Clarkson has done extraordinary things for UK farming. In 20 short months he has showcased the farmer’s frustration with the weather, government, machinery, forms and administration and most of all sheep, that most cantankerous and errant ovine.
Over the course of the first two series of the Amazon Prime show, I think farmers have felt seen and heard in a way that they haven’t before.
At times, we have even felt understood.
Jeremy and his farm manager Kaleb encounter almost the full range of farming challenges and they don’t sugar-coat the experience for the viewer or don their own rose-tinted glasses.
And Jeremy - adept at playing the fool - has asked the questions that people outside of farming want to ask, but haven’t for fear of looking stupid: “Why do you do that?” “How does this work?” “What do farmers do all day?” “What does a Lamborghini tractor look like?”
In the last year and a half, I have received messages and phone calls from non-farming friends who have, with one voice, said: “I never knew farming was so hard.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are certainly moments in the series that are included for entertainment, but nothing that suggests to me that the viewer is being treated to an unusually chaotic depiction of farming.
All the situations and scenarios you see are also unfolding on UK farms near you. Farmers may particularly recognise the scene where Jeremy is looking through the accounts to realise that his business made £144 profit after all his labours in the past year.
Furthermore, each episode rattles through issues of crop disease, mistakes and mess-ups, badgers with tuberculosis and interactions with local government, all at a pace that I recognise well; farmers need to be vet, mechanic, botanist, book-keeper, administrator and carpenter, and that’s all before lunch.
Having said this, when I spoke with a group from the Worshipful Company of Farmers just before Christmas, I argued that Clarkson’s association with UK farming is a double-edged sword.
The programme has been fantastic in raising awareness of our industry, but we also need to exercise caution. When linking our reputation to a powerful brand over which we have little control, we must be prepared for some bumps in the road.
Rarely the oracle, in this instance I was disappointingly prophetic, as the gaffe-prone Clarkson once again put his foot in it - this time when he wrote a newspaper column that overstepped the mark with a horrible comment about Meghan Markle.
Clarkson apologised and doesn’t seem to have done too much damage to himself, Amazon or UK farming. But now we’re “once bitten, twice shy” - I’m still on board with the show but nervous about what he might do next.
What has delighted me the most about Clarkson is that, over the past couple of years, we’ve witnessed a growing love affair.
Out of the macho motorhead who for years had little time for the environment - or any terrain not coated with tarmacadam - there has emerged a soft-hearted gentleman with a love of his land.
He clearly enjoys his farming, cares about those he works with and has a passion for his animals and the soils that he stewards.
And it is the story of this growing love that has connected with huge numbers of viewers, and that best reflects the 400,000 or so immensely dedicated people working in agriculture in the UK.
About the Author: Tom Martin, aka “Farmer Tom”, has a mixed arable and sheep farm in East Anglia, he is also the UK correspondent for The Country.