Farmer Pippa Woods from Devon, who died at the age of 96, campaigned on behalf of small family farms. It has served as the leading beacon of the Small Farmers Association since its inception in 1979, and has done much to raise awareness of the problems of these producers.
The farms around it were sold off to higher-income non-farmers—not to farm, but for their beautiful farmhouses—and the land was subdivided so that the farms grew larger while the farming community was smaller. . As prices rose, it was increasingly difficult for young people to reach the lower rungs of the ladder.
The government favored large farms, but argued that there was a limit to the advantages of larger scale, both in production and profitability, and social and environmental impacts were rarely considered. When the CAP, the government, or the National Farmers’ Union seemingly ignored the small farmer’s situation, Pippa was aware of developments and eager to fight their corner.
In the pages of Farmers Weekly, she advocated capping farm payments, hoping that the government or the NFU would somehow divert them away from those with plentiful hectares and livestock. Outside of Britain, she noted how “powerful world merchants had engineered a situation in which all the farmers in the world would compete against each other to sell their crops, usually for less than the cost of production,” with the result that they had to plant more, and so overproduce.
The solution she saw was family farming related to income levels in specific countries rather than globalization: “Free trade is bad, not good, for global prosperity…the principle of food sovereignty should be the basis of every nation’s agricultural economy”.
She may not have succeeded in impressing cap levels, but in addition to saying things, she can do them, as she did when she rejected the continually stated ambition to increase the milk yield of her cows. As a result, they lived longer and had an average of six lactation times, rather than the average of three and a half times as cows gave higher yields.
Her approach was prescient: she cared for animal welfare and the environment before it became natural or modern. Since 1960, primrose seedlings and wildflower seeds have been grown in the bare spots left by the removal of the fence and the widening of the road. She continually went on expeditions to London, and when environmental stewardship came to stress the importance of farms in relation to the natural world, she could see her long-held concerns addressed in public policy.
Born in Yorkshire, Pippa was the daughter of Sir Philip Hind, director of the National Gallery, London, in the post-war period, and his wife, Kethy Ogilvie, a member of the London County Council. Pippa attended Dartington School, Devon, and enjoyed helping out on her farm. In 1940, when she was fourteen, she went with her mother to the United States for the duration of World War II.
Returning to Dartington four years later, she is engaged in harvesting and hedging. In 1946 she married Bob Woods, the school farm manager, and they lived for seven years in Sudan, where Bob was an agricultural official, by which time they had two daughters, Jill and Helen.
In 1954, they were able to purchase Osborne Newton Farm, Kingsbridge, Devon, and Ayrshire dairy cows and acquired 112 acres. When the Ayrshires weren’t doing so well, they used the then innovative artificial insemination to cross with the British Friesian, which had a reputation for being the leanest of the cows.
They learned as they went on to use grants to help with new buildings, fences, and roads, and did a great deal of the work themselves, including building a milking parlour. Pippa started a very successful egg business that grew to 1,000 chickens, keeping young birds on the lawn in moving ships, and layers in coops.
The young woman who collected and cleaned the eggs also acted as a nanny for David, Pippa, and Bob’s younger children. But in the 1960s, when the industry began raising chickens with batteries, the price of eggs dropped.
Pippa had done most of the lambing when they had 60 ewes, but after they abandoned them in the 1970s, they specialized in dairy cows. Bob, who made all the major decisions, died in 1976, and since then Pippa has taken over, with David later becoming a partner.
Early on, the Small Farmers Association became the Family Farmers Association, and was chaired by Biba. By the 1990s, her farm had nearly doubled in size, to 204 acres.
When interviewed by Farmers Weekly in 2014, the International Year of Family Farming, she noted that David ran the farm with 60 suckling cows and up to 140 head cows, but without regular help; Previously the farm supported four full-time people. Multinational corporations have clearly made the situation of the family farmer worse. In 2016 she was appointed by the Central Bank to work in the rural community.
She is survived by her three children, five grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.