A lifetime on the land for farmer and his wife

NEWMAN Smith knew he wanted to be a farmer from the age of five and at the ripe old age of 80 he’s still working the land.

Mr Smith celebrated his 80th birthday this week – the day after his wife, Joan, reached the same milestone.

And just in case any of their neighbours in Southery, near Downham Market, weren’t aware that it was a special weekend for the Smiths, a well-wisher had hung a banner from the village sign across the road from their bungalow, proclaiming: “Joan + Newman 80.”

Mr Smith followed his father Ernie into farming just after the Second World War. The family worked the black peat around Denver, where Mr Smith bought his first eight-acre field as a schoolboy for �200, after cycling off to negotiate with the landowner.

By the age of 21, he had a county council tenancy, a grey Fergie - and a bride.

Mr Smith met his wife Joan at a dance at Stowbridge, where she lived with her family, in 1950. The couple married in 1953 - around the time of the great floods.

“We married on the 18th and we nearly divorced on the 20th,” said Mr Smith. “I hadn’t got my ‘taters set.

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“We had a little Fergie potato planter that rang a bell every time you had to drop a potato in.

“I didn’t think she was dropping them in fast enough.”

Mrs Smith said: “Of course I was, I’d done that job before - I used to help my dad.”

Mr and Mrs Smith did not split up over the potato incident. They went on to raise two children, David and Gillian, who each have two children.

Mr Smith now grows 400 acres of potatoes, sugar beet and barley along the bumpy Feltwell Road, that winds across the Fens from Southery.

He admits he enjoys tinkering with farm machinery, having owned Allis Chalmers, International and Massey Ferguson tractors before coming across his ideal machine, the monstrous articulated Massey Ferguson 1200.

Mr Smith admits farm machinery has become space-age in comparism to the old grey Fergie beloved of vintage tractor enthusiasts across the Fens and elsewhere.

“I can’t do nothing with all these new John Deeres and they all laugh at me,” he said.

“They say ‘father, you’re not tinkering about with an old Fordson now.”

Mr Smith said he doesn’t need a SatNav or auto-steering in his cab to plough straight.

“I know how to plough a field with my eyes shut,” he said. “I don’t need one of them.”

Mr Smith is adamant he has plenty more years of farming left in him.

“I’m good enough for another 20 years,” he said. “That was hard work but it’s a doddle now - that’s why I like it.

“I knew when I was five years old what I was going to do. I never wanted to do anything else.”