Farm worker retires after 50 years at the same family-run farm

A farm worker retires this month having spent his entire working life with J Gilbert & Son in Littleport.

Robert Gordon has seen computerisation introduced to farming, labour-intensive tasks become automated and machinery used on the land more than double in size.

When Robert first started work in May 1970, just before he turned 16, a team of around 15 helped to farm 450 acres of land. Five now look after just under 3,100 acres.

Speaking after a day’s work at Butcher’s Hill Farm, in Wisbech Road, Robert said: “You could say I’ve seen a few changes over the years...

“The main one for me is how everything is computerised. You programme in what you want the machine to do in the field.

“It means farming is much more efficient nowadays and you can cover so much more ground quicker.

“Also, the job isn’t as physical as what it used to be. Take something like riddling potatoes for example, that’s all automatic now and it used to be hard work when we were doing it by hand.

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“Some mornings before work, we talk about how things used to be years ago and how different they are now.”

Robert, of Welney, explained he took to farming after helping his uncle Derek Gordon on his farm at Ten Mile Bank.

He joined J Gilbert & Son at nearby Willow Farm, starting at the very bottom of the ladder.

“I took to farming straight away, I couldn’t have gone into an office job,” Robert said.

“I need to be out in the fresh air, and doing different jobs throughout the day.”

John Gilbert was running the farm at the time, and his father James had taken on the chicken enterprise.

J Gilbert & Son is now run by John’s two sons Ian and Mark.

For the last 15 years, Robert drives the farm’s largest tractor and is responsible in areas such as ploughing and cultivating.

Looking back at harvest times, Robert recalled how his wife Sandra would bring their sons to the farm to see their dad as he was working long hours.

Robert said: “I used to drive a combine during harvest, starting with a 12ft and then moving to a 16ft. You can get 30ft combines now.

“During the week, I’d see my family every day at tea time as I’d be starting work at 7am and finishing at 10 or 11pm.

“At weekends, Sandra would bring the boys to see me on the farm at dinner times and we’d have a picnic together.

“While I was with my family, someone else would get into the combine and keep on working. We needed to get the crop in before it rained, it’s part of the job.”

It didn’t put sons Gareth and Matt off – they both ventured into the farming sector as well.

While many move into the area to have the vast and open countryside on their doorstep, Robert said the scenery wasn’t something he took much notice of as it was part of his everyday life.

He said: “When you’re outside all day with work and jobs to get through, you don’t really notice the landscape if I’m quite honest with you.

“The one thing I do notice is the sunset towards the end of the day. When the sun goes down, I think to myself: ‘It’s nearly home time...’

“Small thoughts like that keep my mind occupied during the day.”

When it comes to retirement, Robert is looking forward to spending time with Sandra and the rest of the family.

They plan to get away in their caravan whenever they can, and Robert is also a keen carp fisherman.

He said: “I’ve told them at work to just give me a ring if they ever need a hand.

“They’ve been very nice people to work for. I got on with the boss and they got on with me – I guess that’s why I stayed with them all this time.”

In a statement, Ian Gilbert, and his brother Mark, said: “We wish Robert a long and enjoyable retirement.

“It has been an honour to work with Robert, even if we only joined in for the last 34 years!

“Robert has always been very reliable, is still as strong as an ox and to this day likes to carry out his work to a high standard.

“If Robert was driving a tractor you could be sure that it would come back to the yard cleaner than it was when he left the yard, and he would always put hand tools back in their right place and leave everything tidy.

“When some of us are rushing around like headless chickens trying to beat the weather Robert will remain calm and just keep going at his own pace.”