Social Documentary Photography of Hampshire Farms

A social documentary photography project about farmers in Hampshire.

Throughout 2024 I’m following six farms and their farmers as part of a social documentary photography project. They are all tenants of Hampshire County Council’s County Farms Estate, some have been tenants for just over a year, others for a couple of years, and one for much longer.

Some are called ‘starter farms’ where the farmer runs a micro business of some sort, usually involving a small dairy herd supported by other arable or livestock to generate sufficient income.

Others are bigger farms that come with more ambitious plans and the farmers here are just starting to understand the land they have and how they can use it.

Whilst many of us have been complaining about waterlogged gardens after months of seemingly endless rain, James’s farm on the south coast is exposed to winds that whip across the Solent like a hairdryer so that his land looks like it has been baked by the sun. On a day that I visited James was sowing turnip seeds to provide winter food for his livestock but the harrow barely scratched the surface, kicking up clouds of dust as he sought to ensure the seeds found a crevice to fall into before being blown away or eaten by birds.

At another farm just outside Winchester, Billy and Alice were also fighting against the odds but this time it was machinery that was hampering their plans. Broken kit is par for the course in farming but tight margins and even tighter deadlines rarely allow for the luxury of calling of someone in. Instead a farmer needs to think creatively to find a solution. In this instance Billy had the tools to weld the broken parts and a few metal washers he had in the workshop strengthened the welds so that he could continue with the proper job of muck spreading.

Dagging ewes was a phrase I hadn’t heard of until I witnessed three people removing the coats of the ewes around the rear end to protect the animal from disease and infection. It was a bright sunny day and the temperature outside was in the low twenties but inside the barn it was several degrees higher and these three young farmers were dripping with sweat as they sought to get each ewe in the correct position to start clipping.

Fighting the elements and broken equipment are distractions from the main business which is to produce food, and that is heavily regulated. Every jab and movement is documented, usually on a mobile phone using an app that helps them to keep livestock records up-to-date.

At this dairy farm they are subject to regular milk sampling tests which have to be overseen by a Defra qualified inspector and the samples sent for independent analysis – at the farmer’s expense of course.

The way farming is reported in this country it is natural to assume that all farming is the same, governed by the same rules but that is not completely accurate. The weather governs farming to a great extent but its impact can be significantly different just a miles apart. For example, some farms have had keep cattle indoors for longer this year because of the state of fields, this adds to the costs of food and bedding – that the consumer won’t really want to pay for. Others haven’t been able to sow crops because of the waterlogged fields.

Quality and reliability of equipment also governs farming and that requires money – a compact tractor from the UK’s best selling brand costs around £50,000 but of course it’s not just a tractor that is required it’s the trailers, spreaders, seed spreaders, harrows, forks and many other attachments that are vital, each costing thousands of pounds.

What you can’t put a price on though is passion, and these farmers have it in abundance. They love farming, despite the weather, despite the challenges, despite the increasing red tape, they love their work and the animals they care for. It might seem illogical but it’s true.

About this social documentary photography project

This social documentary photography project has only been possible with the support of Hampshire County Council’s Farm Services team and the willing farmers. The project started in March will continue until the end of the year, for more updates follow me on Instagram here.