A day in the life of a Hop Farmer
PUBLISHED: 11:05 29 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:04 20 February 2013
Continuing our series 'down on the farm', we meet hop farmer James Rickards to hear all about his typical working day
Continuing our series down on the farm, we meet hop farmer James Rickards to hear all about his typical working day.
Job title: Farmer.
Where: There are two farms, both at Old Wives Lees, near Chilham
What sort of farm is it?
Its a mixed farm. We grow hops, cereals and fruit (mainly eating apples).
How has hop growing changed?
Today most of the hops are grown in America and Germany and the UK only produces four per cent of the total world production. We grow three varieties Fuggles, Golding and Challenger. All these hop varieties have qualities of aroma which are good for traditional English ales. Interest in real ales is really reviving and this is good for the industry. Up to 20 years ago people used to come down from London for the hop picking season but that has now completely died out. Since then we have employed people from New Zealand, South Africa and Australia but now we take on about 12 students from eastern European countries by arrangement with Concordia. They are cheerful and motivated, but it is very sad that we find it virtually impossible to find English students who are willing to do the work.
At what age did you start?
I grew up on the family farm. My grandfather farmed and so did my father. Three generations have grown hops. I cannot recall a time when I wasnt involved in some way.
Who or what inspired you?
My grandfather and father and I have always loved tractors!
What about training?
I studied agriculture with the fruit option at Hadlow. During my work experience year, which was part of the course, I worked on a hop farm in Herefordshire. After I finished at Hadlow I worked on another hop farm in Herefordshire before returning to work on the family farm in 1983.
Describe a typical working day
I am sure everyone featured in this series says it all depends on the season and so it does. My working day starts about 7.30am. I employ one full-time and two part-time members of staff and I discuss operations with them. My day will probably include crop walking to check that everything is in order and no problems are emerging and I may well do some spraying and other practical operations. I enjoy all the hands-on aspects of the job very much but the amount of paperwork seems to grow and grow and this plus telephone calls and emails take up far too much of my time.
Tell us about the farm itself
My father and I are joint owners. We farm 500 acres. Roughly half of that we own and the remainder we rent from Corpus Christi. Although only small by Oxford standards, the college owns several farms which are rented out and we find them very good landlords.
How do you market the hops?
Through a cooperative that markets English hops from its base in Paddock Wood. I have forward contracts which cover three years in advance. The cooperative sells hops to a number of breweries in the UK and also exports to America and other countries.
Any children following in your footsteps?
I have daughters of 23 and 21 and at the moment neither shows an interest in entering the farming industry, but perhaps one of them will marry a farmer!
Marks out of 10?
I went to Hadlow to learn to grow crops, and that is what I love doing. If I could set some of the office work aside (and increase the profits a little), it would definitely be a 10!
GET IN TOUCH
Lower Ensden Farm, Lower Ensden Road, Old Wives Lees, Canterbury CT4 8BA
01227 730602 or 07976 731941