Illustration by Clara Nicoll

Farming life: Behind the scenes on Countryfile

Hosting a BBC television crew while bringing in the harvest made for a hectic month 
September 6, 2023

I was delighted to be invited to host the harvest episode of Countryfile this year. We filmed the episode in August, which is without doubt the busiest month on the farm. Striking the balance between filming the harvest and bringing it in was always going to be a challenge, and so I thought I’d offer you a little insight into life both in front of and behind the camera.

I was struck, during the planning phase, by how meticulous the BBC team are. They were careful that nothing was mocked up for television, and wanted to capture real life in fine detail—if it happens on the farm, it goes in the show.

Each episode has its own focus. I recall standing in the middle of a field of wheat on the team’s planning visit with the researcher, Joe, and the director, Mark, discussing the theme. We worked together to develop this theme from their original proposal, “Technology”, to arrive at one that felt more fitting: “Community”. Harvest is the time when farming families, the local community and supporting industries come together with a core aim: to bring in the harvest and go home safely.

On our farm, we work with neighbouring farmers, who run a local grain store, who share the burden of storing, drying and cleaning if necessary. We couldn’t do it without them. This year we have two young harvest staff; I call them my “chickens” on account of them having skinny legs. At the ages of 18 or 19, we don’t get everything right, but I wouldn’t change their youthful enthusiasm for anything—we couldn’t harvest without such dedicated workers. We also have great non-farming neighbours, who—as well as understanding the late-night traffic that the season brings—have alerted us to ovine escapees, a broken tail light and the presence of someone up to no good in the small hours. Again, we just couldn’t manage without them. 

Harvest isn’t simply about rumbling combines and jumbo-sized tractors, pulling trailers full of grain; we also have lovely Simon, the beekeeper extracting honey from hives dotted around our fields of wildflowers and buckwheat. We have neighbours picking delicious blueberries and my wife, Lisa, runs our community garden, growing all manner of fresh vegetables. Harvest involves this whole community.

I’m sorry to disappoint those of you looking for juicy gossip

And so it was with great pleasure that we hosted the Countryfile team for a couple of days, to give them a window into our world. We found them to be their own little community, coming together to get the work done. The question you are no doubt eager to ask is, what were the presenters like? Were they prima donnas, flouncing from trailer to makeup to deliver their scripted lines? 

I’m sorry to disappoint those of you looking for juicy gossip, but they were a pleasure to have around. And when Adam Henson joined me on the combine, he was the first out of the cab in hot, dusty conditions to clear any blockage and inspect for breakages. You can take a farmer like Adam out of his farm, but you can’t take the farmer out of Adam.

It is late August as I write, and television’s visit is a mere memory. Fortunately, it created little disruption to our harvest beyond some short delays and the necessity of wearing the same clothes for  two scorching days running.

Farmers are divided about Countryfile: some prize the opportunity to beam into the nation’s homes every week, whereas others feel it doesn’t represent the interests of agriculture at all.

I know that after my appearance I will receive some attention from keyboard warriors, even in the farming community, so why do we do it? Well, ours is an industry that I’m proud to be a part of, and it is a pleasure to show people why they can be proud to buy British produce.  

With harvest finished for another year and the combine parked away carefully for her long winter rest, what was once a time of celebration gives way to the post-harvest rush to get next year’s crops sown. And as the days shorten, we’re already beginning to dream of next year’s harvest.