Chris Berry talks with new NFU North Riding & County Durham chairman James Bainbridge

When James Bainbridge left school all he wanted, in common with many others lads who have grown up on farms, was to get behind the wheel of big machines. Today he still retains that enthusiasm for on-farm kit but he’s now also helping steer the expanding family business at Greystones Farm in Seamer near Stokesley and has recently settled into a new driving seat as chairman of the North Riding & County Durham region of the NFU.

‘I’ve been involved with the NFU since leaving the Young Farmers,’ says James. ‘I wanted to keep active and started at branch meetings in Stokesley, where I became chairman. I think we’re in a fantastic industry and I’m always interested in making sure it says that way.’

While there is generally a call for younger blood like James to take up senior NFU roles he understands why others may be in a less opportune position than he in terms of support at home.

‘I’m very fortunate that I have my dad, uncle and cousin who all work incredibly hard and can take over what I leave behind when attending events and meetings. I fully understand a lot of other young farmers are as keen and enthusiastic but don’t haven’t the time or resources that I have available.’

James also points to the direction he was given by his cousin Simon Dunn of Breck House Enterprises who advised him to study rather than simply getting behind the wheel of a tractor for the rest of his life.

‘I’d worked for Simon and it was his words that set me on my way. Being a young lad all I really wanted was to drive tractors around but he told me I could do better than that and to get myself off to college. It was a big decision as I didn’t feel it was going to be right at the time but I now know what others talk about when they say some of the best years of their lives were at college. I went to Bishop Burton College, had a brilliant time, learned far more than I ever would have at home and made friends for life. It was an incredible experience and I will always tell others to do the same.’

Brexit and glyphosate restrictions are currently top of James’ NFU-related agenda.

‘I really think Brexit will take a great deal of sorting out. The government will need pointing in the right direction by the NFU and many other organisations because there is no blueprint for leaving the single market. What concerns me is that our government might let in a lot of foreign food imports produced to a lower standard than ours. We’re producing what I believe is the best in the world. We need to get that message out to the public.’

‘Scaremongering over the use of Roundup and glyphosate is something that needs dealing with. If I lost its use it would be the equivalent of farming without machinery. Using glyphosate is a no-brainer. I just can’t see why there is a move get it stopped. That’s a subject that is particularly close to my heart.’

James, his father David, uncle Les and cousin Jonathan farm 1500 acres and with most of it being arable land it is not difficult to see why he feels so strongly.

‘We have 250 acres here at Greystones but we farm around 1500 acres overall through renting or contract farming on what amounts to ten different holdings within 7 miles. Dad and my uncle set up an agricultural contracting business when I was at school and as a number of their customers have reached retirement age we have started farming their land for them. That direction has worked well in terms of our own expansion since I came back from college with the enthusiasm to farm a greater acreage.’

James and cousin Jonathan are third generation farmers.

‘My grandfather Walter purchased Greystones when he was 21 and passed away two years ago having hit his century. He was 101 and had bought the farm for £8,000! I’d kept asking him whether he wanted to double his money!’

The Bainbridge farming operation sees arable cropping account for around 60 per cent of their income with beef cattle, poultry and eggs, livestock haulage and a recent move into sheep making up the rest.

‘Land-wise we have a mixture of everything from sandy loam to stronger and heavier soil. It’s good Grade 2 land. We grow wheat, barley, oilseed rape and beans. We’re always aiming for first wheats and can get good yields of up to 4 tonnes/acre. We have around 400 acres of winter wheat growing the varieties JB Diego and Revelation. We don’t shop around much as we prefer to keep things simple going for barn filling wheats.’

‘All wheat sold off the farm goes on a tractor and trailer to Noble Foods nearby. We get a premium for delivery. Winter barley cropping is around 500-600 acres with the varieties Volume and Cassia and we feed a lot of it to our cattle. Barley straw brings in additional revenue and gets the fields cleared for good establishment.’

‘I still see oilseed rape as a good break crop as it then allows us to get a first wheat in early. It remains expensive to grow but with a price that has been around £350/tonne I can’t see anything that stacks up as well. The beans are to fulfil our greening measures and are an ecological focus area for us. They go in containers to York and from there to Egypt for their morning meals.’

Blackgrass problems persist throughout Yorkshire and the Bainbridges have their own attitude towards it, hence James’ feelings about Roundup.

‘It is creeping up and with little bits here and there we have a zero tolerance approach. We will go straight into the field with a knapsack or sprayer and burn it off when we see it. We use Roundup to keep on top of the job. As contractors we are always conscious that everything on the farm is kept clean too.’

Having the right machinery and the confidence that comes from good support and backup from local agricultural machinery outlets is vital to James’ and Greystones’ on-going success.

‘We have four John Deere tractors from Ripon Farm Services. They’re a really good dealership and we also hire another in at harvest. We also run a John Deere combine harvester. We took on a JCB pivot steer loader from Paxtons. It was a big step up from a front end loader on a tractor but it has proved its worth.’

Baling, spraying and spreading make up three of the other main roles taken up by the Bainbridge team’s agricultural contracting business as well as across their managed acreage. James is keen to increase their workload further and they have the kit too.

‘We already undertake a lot of baling and wrapping and have two Welger round balers and a square baler. We hire a MF square baler from Big Bale North which does around 10,000 bales a year and we’re currently pushing out to get more square baling for the expanding haylage market. Jonathan looks after the square baling and I go around with the wrapper. We use a McHale 998 wrapper. We’ve just bought a new round bale wrapper with two dispensers, which means bales can be wrapped twice as fast.’

‘Our self propelled Chafer sprayer is close to my heart. We bought it second-hand and this will have been only its second season, but I enjoy spraying and was looking for additional contract work. The Chafer offers me the high clearance and decent capacity I was after.’

‘The fertiliser spreader is on variable rate P&K, which saves a lot of money and we use a hire tractor that has autosteer.’

The Bainbridges are now 90 per cent one-pass mintill using a Sumo Trio.

‘We like to keep with the plough in the rotation for barley establishment but one-pass has saved us time and diesel.’

Les is the cattle man and buys Limousin X stores from Hexham that are destined for top quality butchers’ heifers.

‘The quality is brilliant and Les regularly tops the market at Northallerton where we sell. We will turn over around 500 a year and at any one time we will have around 200. They’re really smart looking cattle that we feed with ad-lib barley that we mill ourselves, and silage to complement it.’

Free range hens producing eggs for the Happy Egg Co. have been added to the farm mix in the past decade.

‘We started our poultry enterprise around nine years ago and have 9000 free range hens that come in at 16 weeks and go right through to 76 weeks. We keep them a little longer than we used to and that helps with profitability. We buy pullets and feed from Noble Foods and they take away the hens when they are finished.’

The sheep sector has been the family’s latest move.

‘Jonathan has gone into partnership with his father-in-law Steve Coulson who is full-time shepherd for Robert Campbell at Oneholmes Farm nearby. They’re two years into their new flock and they are now lambing 400 ewes using a Mule X Texel tup with lambs destined for Northallerton Mart. They’re really keen to expand further.’

A new Allmet grain dryer installed by JW Installations of Cowton and a new weighbridge are firm indications of the family’s commitment to its future in farming.

‘We’re always looking at what we should be doing next. If any land comes up to rent I’m the first out there to try for it. The way to drive our business further forward is to farm more land and I like growing crops.’

James is 36, he’s married to Sam (nee Bradley) whose parents farm in Ellerker, East Yorkshire. They met at college. The couple have three children, Holly, Jack and Chloe. Jonathan’s partner is Claire (Mitchell) and they have a son Robert. James’ mum is Jean and his auntie, Les’ wife, is Karen.

When James is not on farm organising their next move or on NFU duties he enjoys riding his trails bike, a Gas Gas TXT 280.

‘I’m not brilliant but it get me off the farm and it’s my escape. We go up to Reeth, Guisborough and Northallerton.’