Agri Bites is a new video series from Lodi UK where we interview farmers across the country. This ‘season’ is focused on young farmers.
Sam and Kate took a scenic drive to Oxfordshire to visit Karl Franklin (a.k.a. @the_pretend_farmer). Karl is a young farmer who juggles shepherding & hay-making with a thriving gardening business. After only a few years in agriculture, he’s already an NFU Young Farmer & Yellow Wellies Ambassador and is the Official Unofficial BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show Farmer!
Kate: Hi Karl! So did you come from a farming family?
Karl: So, I don't come from a farming background at all. I started in about 2015. My grandparents had about 12 acres, so I started with 12 store lambs.
Kate: Has your farming business stepped up since Covid? I know that you trained as a chef…
Karl: Yes, I trained as a chef from when I left school at 16. I did that until 2018 and then I jacked it all in, went gardening & expanded my farming business. It’s massively increased. This time last year, I gained another 20 acres, which was permanent pasture, not for haymaking so I had to buy my first breeding flock which I’ve just lambed this year.
Kate: Did you always want to go into sheep or was it coincidental?
Karl: Yeah, so in 2015, I bought store lambs. I've done that up until this time last year and I said I would never buy a flock. I couldn’t see how it would be beneficial to me. I thought I would just buy stores, make hay in the summer, and keep repeating that. Then all of a sudden, I gained that grazing. I was like I've got 20 acres, I need some sheep, so I went and bought 33 sheep. So no, I didn't plan to do it, but I absolutely love it and wouldn't change it for the world.
Kate: Did you pick a particular breed or was it just whatever was at the market?
Karl: No, somebody I know was selling them, so I went and viewed them with not with a lot of idea. I went and viewed 31. They then told me there was 33, but if I bought 31, they’d throw the two in for free. I came away with 33 when I was only meant to get about 20. I'm pleased with them now, but I didn't really know what I was buying.
Kate: How did you get to be a Yellow Welly and NFU Ambassador?
Karl: So, with Yellow Wellies. When I started this whole Instagram and all of that fun, they reached out to me (about June last year) and offered me a takeover position. So we took over the Instagram account for a Tuesday. Then they said would I like to be an ambassador for them. I jumped the opportunity because being able to talk about farm safety and mental health is really important. The NFU ambassador scheme runs every year. The applications came out about July last year. I wondered about whether I was sort of fit the bill or not because I don't come farming stock and all of that. I spoke to a few of the other ambassadors, and they said that I should apply. Now I’m one of their ambassadors. We’re basically the young farmers of the NFU.
Sam: What is Yellow Wellies?
Karl: Yellow Wellies is a farm safety charity, to make everyone much more aware of mental health and farm safety. It’s such a dangerous industry and we're trying to make it safer every single day. So getting our voice out there and making it heard is a huge priority.
Kate: You posted a lot for Mental Health Awareness Week as well. Is that something you’re passionate about?
Karl: Farming is a very ‘alone’ industry with many people working by themselves for many hours of the day. It’s important to talk about it and know that it’s ok to not be ok.
Kate: Have you found it difficult to get into farming?
Karl: I said I will just take on pretty much any piece of grazing, even if it's someone's back garden within reason! I won't say no to any. I've just not tried to expand very quickly. I've only bought in 12 and 20, then 30, then 40 store lambs as I got more grass and then when I gain these 20 acres meant I could expand and have grazing over the summer. So yes, it's just being sort of a slow process and probably putting more money than I should be into the business into that side of the business and not the other side. But I love it.
Kate: What made you start your Instagram?
Karl: I think a few friends said, “how do you make hay?” and I just started talking about it and people enjoyed it and then it's just really snowballed from there. Now, I’ve found myself pretty much talking to my phone every single day of the week. I've had people that message and said that they thought more about when they go into the supermarket buying British. It's helped me expand my business too. I've sent lamb to Derby, Essex, all over.
Kate: We heard you the other day on BBC Radio 2. How did you get involved with them?
Karl: Again, I've just been really, really lucky. I text in one day of which they found it interesting about tupping and Rambo the ram and it's just spiralled from there. They found that I’m happy to spend the time talking to them. It’s Radio 2. If they’ll have me to talk about British farming, I’ll be there. It’s gone from sort of strength to strength and now I'm their Unofficial Official Breakfast Show Farmer.
Kate: Do you think that people follow you to get a real world view of British agriculture?
Karl: That’s what I hope. Nothing is off-limits to show the truth. There is so much negative and fake news (without sounding too much like Trump) out there about British agriculture. I want to show people what really happens behind the farm gate.
Kate: What do you think about the farming community online?
Karl: I was oblivious to this amazing community until about a year and a half ago, two years ago. When I started my Instagram, I found more and more people and I've got friends all over Britain and Ireland and all over the country.
Sam: What’s your ambition going forwards? What’s your dream?
Karl: A dream would be farming sheep beef and pork on a small enough scale that I don't depend on the market or supermarkets. I sell everything straight to the consumer. Realistically, I probably will take a long time to get there because I don't own a farm. I will probably never own a farm because unless I find a rarely rich relative or I win the lottery.
Sam: Is there a community of young farmers in the UK?
Karl: I'm heavily involved in the National Federation of Young Farmers, so there's a great community when Covid doesn't exist. We are at the pub pretty much every week, comparing what we're doing on our farms. Yesterday, I was talking to a friend about borrowing my mower and he's going to come and do some hay carting. I'm really lucky around here. There is a lot of old farmers and young farmers that want to help and I find if you're passionate and you're prepared to sort of got your way and talk to them, they will help you out.
Sam: What do you think has led to your success on social media?
Karl: I’ve had people messaging saying that they live in London and have no idea about what actually happens in our countryside. They think it’s great to watch somebody from their phone and see what they get up to. If I didn't have social media, I could only reach the people that prepared to listen to me in my village. It’s an amazing tool to show people younger than me that this is an amazing industry to come into. You've not just got to be a farmer anymore. There are so many job opportunities within the industry.