Arable farmer Richard Bramley says the “extremes driven by climate change” mean he has “never felt so exhausted” while working on his farm in Kelfield near Selby. Here he provides an insight into the challenges he – and farmers across the country – face amid the climate crisis.

Some pleasant weather recently may have allowed the last few sodden months to fade into distant memory for many, somewhat like Covid lockdowns and facemasks. But not so the farmer.

Extremes driven by climate change are becoming normal and associated problems are a growing menace.

Amid that, I often ponder how the word ‘farmer’ does not adequately convey the relationship between consumers and those who grow the things we eat. ‘Food provider’ is a better description, although it still doesn’t pay justice to the incredible complexity of our food system, a system creaking under immense strain.

Much of the world, including much of Britain, is experiencing increased flooding and more drought, colossal issues for us not least because we import around 40 per cent of our food.

York Press: Richard Bramley is an arable farmer in Kelfield near SelbyRichard Bramley is an arable farmer in Kelfield near Selby (Image: Alex Brown)

Then add in war, including in ‘bread basket’ Ukraine, which creates further distortions in agricultural trade.

In addition, we have our own developing agricultural and environmental policy, still finding its feet eight years after our vote to leave the European Union.

Working my 500 acres near York, I’ve been acutely aware of significant changes afoot for over 20 years.

Despite investing in more efficient machinery, the job isn’t getting easier.

I’ve never felt so exhausted, although I don’t believe it’s just physical tiredness.

While it’s perhaps an age thing to some extent, I am still under the often-quoted average farmer’s age of 59.

Much younger food providers find life immensely difficult too. A recent Farm Safety Foundation survey found that 95 per cent of UK farmers under the age of 40 struggle with their mental health and statistics for the worst manifestation of this are utterly tragic; 2021 data showed 36 farmers took their own lives.

The internationally popular TV series ‘Clarkson’s Farm’ demonstrates some of the challenges, culminating with Jeremy Clarkson’s modest profit margin from 1,000 acres in the Cotswolds. All profits, though, were needed to reinvest in the following year's crop, with success not guaranteed.

York Press: Jeremy Clarkson who stars in popular Amazon Prime Video series Clarkson's FarmJeremy Clarkson who stars in popular Amazon Prime Video series Clarkson's Farm (Image: PA Wire/PA Images)

Farming has always been a risky business. However, risks are increasing and we all sit precariously on the cusp of major global – and local – factors massively impacting something many have taken for granted for decades.

We need to face up to this challenge, to ensure food production is rewarded to allow for continued investment and to support resilience to climate change, a resilience which also protects and enhances the natural world.

For truly sustainable farming, it is vital that government policy supports both production and the environment that we need to survive and thrive.

Food supply chains and prices are an essential part of this and at the retail level there must be a re-think.

The current model puts huge financial pressures on farmers, with many unable to continue working.

A transition is also going to need people; farmers are time poor and there’s a lot of potential for new jobs.

Ultimately, though, expect change, because our system is moulded around how we as a society behave. We have collectively created the situation we’re in.

Now we must come together if we are to successfully navigate the rocky road ahead.

  • Richard Bramley is an environment forum chair for the National Farmers' Union and has been collaborating with the non-profit Round Our Way to raise awareness of some of the impacts of climate change.