Tom Clarke

My Farm

I farm just over 1,000 acres of fen at Prickwillow, near Ely in Cambridgeshire. Most of the land has been in the family since 1892, with some extra on FBTs and we took on an extra 200 acres from a retiring neighbour in 2018.

Our soils are mostly peat and silt with high organic matter with some medium & heavy silty clay loam, It's all around 2m below sea-level, flat and windy. People tell me it's "boys land".

We grow milling wheat, which is our largest acreage each year. Sugar beet is our second biggest crop. I grow additional beet on neighbouring farms on annual cropping licences. We also grow potatoes in a joint venture with a neighbour, and linseed for seed as a break crop.

I don't live on the farm, or do a lot of tractor work and we have no livestock. I used to think that meant I wasn't a "real" farmer. But I don't have either a farm manager, or a foreman, so I run it all myself. I employ one full time tractor/telehandler operator, one spray man and a part time caretaker who lives on site. We own our own beet harvester (a Vervaet 217 supplied by J Rileys), and this is the second self-propelled machine we have had. I prefer not being reliant on contractors and lifting our own keeps us busy through the winter. We tend to lift late, and deliver late too.

We are in HLS until 2022 and worked with the RSPB to help set up and run the Ely Nature-Friendly Farming Zone.

My Background

I was born and raised in Ely, Cambridgeshire. My Dad was a 3rd generation farmer and my Mum ran a clothes shop. I didn't do any farming until the ripe old age of 33, making me a middle-aged young farmer!

 

I did well at school and went on to do a degree in Economics & Politics. I spent 4 years after university working in local government, media relations and policy-making in London, After that I gained a masters degree in business (MBA) and I worked as a management consultant for Accenture and Deloitte. If you are interested you can read my full CV on LinkedIn here.

 

I only came back to the family business unexpectedly when my dad, Nigel, died of cancer in 2009 aged only 69. Faced with the choice of selling up, or starting a new career from scratch I opted for the latter and have never regretted it. I fell in love with farming.

Taking on the farm was a very steep learning curve, but very exciting to jump in at the deep end. I spent 5 or 6 years doing every field walk with my independent agronomist and learned on the job. It wouldn't have worked out without the help of our loyal and experienced employees & agronomist and a supportive and understanding girlfriend (now my wife of ten long-suffering years!).

In recent years I've been able to get more involved with the wider industry. I sit on both our local Internal Drainage Boards, and after doing the Sugar Industry Programme in 2016 was invited to join the NFU Sugar Board in 2018, I was chosen as an Oxford Farming Conference "Emerging Leader" in January 2019. I've written some articles for Farmers Guardian and have generally got more involved in telling the farmers story and fighting our corner on TV, radio and social media.

I now sit on the NFU's 2040 Net Zero Steering Group, and with 22 neighbours have formed the Ely Nature Friendly Farming zone which seeks to share knowhow and inform the public about the great things we are doing for nature without sacrificing food production.

 

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