"The Grand Turnip - Clarkson turns farmer to save mankind; the devoted petrolhead is filming a farming series"


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Mar 14, 2012
San Francisco
The Grand Turnip -- Clarkson turns farmer to save mankind: Alarmed by fears for our food supply, the devoted petrolhead is filming a farming series — and even championing veg

(Sunday Times, May 26)

You may have assumed that petrol was his passion and farming just a pose. But Jeremy Clarkson is so smitten by the secret love of the second half of his life that he is turning it into a career.

The man who as a presenter of Top Gear declared that Norfolk people were so inbred they could not tell a Ferguson tractor from a Ford Capri will start filming a series called I Bought the Farm in September. It is centred on his agricultural life in Oxfordshire.

The turn in Clarkson's television career from cars to crops is powered by an unexpected conversion to a sense of urgency about food shortages.

"Scientists calculate that we have just 90 years before we run out of food, because of soil depletion," he says. "That's just 90 more harvests."

Once the scourge of vegetarians, Clarkson, 59, says that what he sees as a looming food crisis has prompted him to modify his own diet, eating less red meat and more vegetables. "I do eat chicken," he confesses. "But that's just a vegetable with a head."

The series will show the dilemmas farmers face on the front line of the environmental struggle. Every attempt to increase food production has an impact.

"When you till the soil or plough in weeds, it releases carbon into the atmosphere. So you think, 'OK, I won't plough, I'll just spray the weeds.' But that's bad for the bees. Every decision you make as a farmer is bad for some reason or another."

The Grand Tour presenter and Sunday Times columnist has had his fair share of problems on his farm, called Diddly Squat, near Chipping Norton, where he grows wheat, barley and oil-seed rape on 1,000 acres of mainly arable land.

His crops were infested this year with black-grass and flea beetle, and his grain contaminated with gravel when he tried to store it on an old airfield. When he tried to take land out of stewardship (formerly "set aside") and put it to productive use, civil servants said he couldn't. "I take the global view that the bigger the world's population gets, the more food we're going to need. So it's slightly mad not to increase crop production because there's a rare grass growing."

Clarkson worries that TV programmes tend to portray a romantic version of farming for the benefit of largely urban audiences, a bias he seeks to correct.

"This is not Kate Humble — much as I like Kate Humble — with 20 acres, bottlefeeding a lamb. Or a TV presenter who grows veg in his back garden. This is actual farming: life, death and form filling."

He named his farm for the meagreness of the yields from the land and the fact that working it is often cold, wet and barbaric. "We're not making Countryfile.

We'll be showing it warts and all. For example, I have no view on badger culling in terms of whether it's necessary, but if it's happening we will not shy away from putting it in the programme."

The global amount of arable land per person in 2050 will be a quarter of that in 1960, according to the UN, as populations grow and soil degrades. The causes of soil loss include chemical-heavy farming methods, deforestation — which increases erosion — and global warming.

If it all sounds a bit politically correct, Clarkson's love of gadgetry will also be on show. He has an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) for getting around the farm, as well as a small hovercraft for swampy conditions, and he is considering a drone for rounding up sheep. The series is due to be shown on Amazon next year.

To keep car fans happy, he is also planning four road-trip "specials" of The Grand Tour for the broadcaster.