Finalists: Family-run farm of the year, sponsored by Yorkshire Agricultural Society

The Dobson family of White Kirkley and Harehope Farms, Frosterley

FIVE generations of the Dobsons family have tenant farmed in Weardale, County Durham, going back to 1850, and the family now has two adjoining farms, run as one by John Dobson with parents Eric and Ella, who celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary in May, wife Deborah and daughter Becky. Additional help is from Henry Crocker.

The Dobsons aim is to produce high quality livestock from their 1,100 acres, which is all classed as "severely disadvantaged". They run a herd of Belgian Blue/Limousin suckler cows and three flocks of sheep. The pure Swaledale flock number between 330 and 350 depending on the yearly fluctuations, normally lamb at about 150 per cent and are kept pure. All Swaledale gimmers are kept. There is also a flock of 400 Swaledale ewes which are crossed to Blue Faced Leicester tups to produce Mule lambs, lambing at about 188 per cent. The female lambs are then used as the basis for a commercial flock of about 750 ewes.

The farm has Common Rights on Bollihope and Pikestone Common and in by moorland, which is the base for the pure Swaledale flock. The best of the land available is used for silage and hay for winter feed.

Eric is a long-term member of Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services, while Becky is former secretary of Weardale YFC, and has helped young farmers in Weardale access grants for farming courses. She is also involved with other young farmers cooking and distributing hot meals to people isolating during the Covid crisis.

The Dobsons' nomination for the Northern Farmer Awards 2021 was encouraged by Vickers and Barrass, chartered surveyors, land and estate agents, which has supported the Dobsons' farming enterprise in Frosterley for many years. Managing director Adam Barrass thinks it is crucial that businesses with such longevity should be recognised. "We feel that the Dobsons are a superb example of great northern farming which has adapted and flourished through the generations," he says.

Simon Haigh and family, and Andrew Whitwam and family, of Harden Road Farm and Bolster Moor Farm Shop, Huddersfield

SIMON and Andrew's fathers worked in partnership many years ago and now they and their families carry on the tradition, with the addition of a farm shop and cafe. The decision to diversify was taken more than 20 years ago, and both Simon and Andrew became qualified butchers with a view to opening the shop.

Now not only do they supply meat for their own business, but also to some of the best restaurants in Huddersfield.

Simon Haigh and Andrew Whitwam

Simon Haigh and Andrew Whitwam

The farm's 240 acres of grass carries 200 beef cattle – a mixed commercial herd of mainly Limousin/Angus – and 450 sheep – a commercial flock of mainly Texel/Beltex with a few Zwarbtles added more recently. All the stock is bred on site and taken through to killing weight, except for a few replacements to keep both the cattle and sheep enterprises fit, healthy and robust. Cattle calve throughout the year to keep a spread of young stock coming through. Simon and Andrew's families are employed across the farm and shop, with the shop now having 95 full and part time staff.

The family are involved in sponsorship of local football and cricket clubs, and five years ago the farm bought a Baptist chapel which housed the local playgroup and other community activities to prevent it being sold off for development. Its use as a building for the community was therefore preserved.

During Covid though eat-in facilities were closed, the farm shop has remained open and almost all of the staff have remained in employment, with just a few being furloughed. The business also introduced "isolation boxes" stocked with fresh meat, vegetables and bakery goods that could be ordered and delivered to those isolating and shielding in the Huddersfield areas.

Mark Rooke and family, of Beadlam Grange Farm, Helmsley

THE Rooke family came to Beadlam Grange as tenants in 1962, when it operated as a dairy farm. They purchased it in 2000, but rethought their business plans after foot and mouth, taking the decision to expand the suckler herd. The farm now runs 100 Limousin sucklers, and has a farm shop, butchery and restaurant, as well as a caravan and camping site.

The farm is 300 acres, with 150 down to grass (permanent and two-year grass leys for silage). Fodder beet is grown for winter feed, 20 acres is let for potato production and 120 acres of grain is grown. All wheat is sold and barley is fed to finishing stock. The farm also has about 1,800 weaner pigs which are reared on a bed and breakfast arrangement for Ian Mosey Livestock Ltd, and a composting facility where approximately 1,000 tons of garden waste is taken from Ryedale District Council annually.

Mark Rooke and son Peter of Beadlam Grange Farm

Mark Rooke and son Peter of Beadlam Grange Farm

From the beginning, Mark's wife Jenny was the driving force behind the farm diversification into tourism and hospitality. Sadly, she was diagnosed with colon/bowel cancer in November 2019 and died just seven weeks later. The family are still feeling the loss greatly, but have Jenny’s vision of the farm enterprise to help them through each day.

On the farm now there is Mark, son Peter and his wife Angela, daughter Helen and coming along behind, Peter and Angela’s young son William.

Mark and Peter work on the farm, while Angela manages the farmshop, butchery, deli and tearoom, and Helen runs her own business in the old cowhouse, Robert & Ruby – Country Gifts & Interiors. There is also a unisex hair salon on-site.

As well as employing the whole family, the business employs between ten and 23 other staff.

During 2020 their services were adapted to enable customers still to purchase fresh produce. They also offer a click and collect service, and are cooking and delivering hot meals to the community.

  • The Northern Farmer Awards 2021 will take place – virtually – on Thursday, February 25. Log onto at 7pm to watch the ceremony. Get involved on social media using #northernfarmerawards