Filmed over the course of a farming year, his new eight-part series ‘Clarkson’s Farm’, promises to give viewers a behind-the-scenes look at life on a British farm, charting the highs and the lows, triumphs and tragedies, which included the 2019 floods and, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic.
A self-confessed townie, Jeremy admits he knew very little about agricultural life before taking over the day-to-day running of the 1,000-acre Oxfordshire farm he’s owned since 2008, where he mainly grows wheat, barley and oilseed rape.
“The farmer who had been looking after the farm was retiring. I thought it wouldn’t be that hard as I didn’t really understand what farming was – I just thought you put seeds into the ground, weather happened and food grew,” says The Grand Tour presenter in typically tongue-in-cheek fashion.
“I didn’t know that you killed oilseed rape off before you harvested it, for example.
“Farming on TV is all Kate Humble on a little smallholding with a bottle-fed lamb or a great big American operation – there didn’t seem to be any portrayal of a typical British working farm like mine: growing wheat, barley and rape. It just isn’t being covered – a man growing beer, bread and oil.
“I’m not naturally a farmer; it’s a vocation, or you train to do it. To be a farmer you need to be so many different things – an entrepreneur, a gambler, a businessman, a politician, a midwife and, of course, a tractor driver.
“I’m not very practical either, but I’m learning a million new things and what I hope I’ve done with this show is cover those aspects people don’t see – warts and all.
“Things like all the paperwork farmers have to deal with and the red tape. Things like where you can and can’t store your fertiliser that I didn’t know. Some of it is illogical and some of it unnecessary, but people don’t see that side. I hope farmers who watch it will think it’s the first portrayal of a typical British farm.”
Diddly Squat Farm
Since taking over the reins at Diddly Squat Farm, Jeremy’s added a 78-strong flock of North of England Mules, 60 Burford Brown hens and experimented with growing potatoes, wasabi and durum wheat. He’s added a trout lake, bottled water from a spring on his land to sell, started producing honey, and is now looking into the possibility of growing hemp.
Last year he built and opened a farm shop, which is run by his girlfriend, Lisa, to sell his homegrown produce. They’ve added other items, including milk from a neighbouring farm and are keen to stock products made by other local farmers, too.
During the course of the show, which airs on Amazon Prime in June, we also meet those who have been supporting Jeremy in his new venture including his right-hand man Kaleb Cooper, who worked for the previous farmer and has a no-nonsense approach to telling Jeremy what he’s doing right – and wrong.
“I called on Kaleb when I got in a muddle – he knows all the fields, all their names. He came along and told me my Lamborghini tractor was too big,” he recalls, “he shouts at me and has banned me from drilling!
“But if I had to do it all again, I’d probably get Kaleb to do more of it, as he knows what he’s doing. I’ve made terrible mistakes. I suppose one thing I’ve learnt is that I need to listen to what other people say, rather than think I know better!”
It’s been a challenging year all round and aside from introducing the beehives, of which he now has 30, few of Jeremy’s schemes have panned out quite as he hoped.
“The weather in autumn 2019 just didn’t stop raining. Charlie, my farm manager, was telling me we had to get the crops in the ground in early November, and when we couldn’t I was in a panic. It was awful – I didn’t realise that it wasn’t a typical autumn,” he says.
“I also thought if we didn’t get them in then that was it, not that they could go in later, but the yield would suffer. From a TV point of view the weather was a big farming story.
“I’ve done a lot of cultivating this year and drilling. I’ve made a couple of mistakes and I’m still terrified of the back of the tractor – as far as I can see everything there can potentially do you a great mischief. I’ve still got the sheep, but I’ve stepped back from looking after them and have a shepherdess.
“I’m not really sure about the difference Covid has made, as I’ve nothing to compare it to before. I was always going to be here for lambing, but because of Covid, myself and Lisa had to do a lot of deliveries, although we had our shepherdess Ellen to guide us along.
“But we were key workers, we had to keep going; in some respects we couldn’t have chosen a better thing to have been doing during a pandemic, working out here, with nobody around.”
Despite the turbulent year, Jeremy is adamant he’s thoroughly enjoying farm life with all its trials and tribulations.
“It’s been an interesting year of farming and a lovely way of passing the time. When I get into bed, I feel like I have achieved something more than in the previous 30 years,” he adds.
“I’ve been very hands-on. I did the full Herriot; I have been in the back of a lot of sheep these past 12 months – you will see me birthing lambs and it can be rather revolting.
“There have been some lovely, idyllic moments too – when things aren’t going disastrously and you can stop your tractor for five moments, lean on a fence post and take in your surroundings, or stop for a picnic or a ploughman’s.
“The weather was lovely when we were getting in the harvest – that was a real high point.”
Although he has a background in motoring journalism and association with cars and machinery, Jeremy says none of this has helped when it comes to transferring his skills to farm life.
“My background hasn’t helped at all; my tractor has 140 buttons and the instructions are in German. Every single time I get in it, I’m only there a few moments before I have to ring Kaleb to ask him something,” he laughs.
“The only way my journalism background has helped is by writing newspaper columns – it keeps the wolf from the door and means I’m able to earn a living.
“Farming is unpredictable. When you work in TV you have a carefully worked-out schedule; you will film this between 11am and 1pm, this between 2pm and 4pm – production crews love that everybody knows what everybody else is doing.
“We filmed for two-to-three days a week on the farm and not once in the 12 months – not once – did we actually film what was on the schedule!
“We’d set off to do one thing, and it would be no, that wall’s come down, or the sheep are out. We never filmed what was on the schedule and I have never known that happen before!”
And life on the farm has confirmed his belief that the British public should back its farmers.
“Everybody seems to be worried about the weather and the climate – but you can do your bit by not eating avocados, or using palm oil, and thinking a bit before buying a tracksuit that’s been shipped halfway round the world,” he says, “choose a jumper made of British wool instead.
“If you really want to help the environment, think about the things you eat and use and where they come from – if it hasn’t come from down the road, it will have travelled a lot further. It’s very simple.
“Food security is very important right now, particularly in light of what has happened with Covid. If we cannot import food, we need to live on what we grow. Look what happened to us the last time that happened in the 1930s.
“If we want to live in a green world, we must eat food that has been produced relatively close to where we live – that’s why farming is extremely important.
“2020 has been a pretty traumatic year for farmers with Covid and Brexit. The year I chose to start farming has seen the wettest planting season for 50 years; the wettest February here, the hottest day ever recorded in August and the coldest May Day ever. The weather is broken – farmers definitely deserve our respect and I hope this show will give people a real insight into their work.”
‘Clarkson’s Farm’ is a new UK Amazon Original series launching exclusively on Prime Video in June 2021.