Rob and Dave Nicholson - the TV farmers from Barnsley

David, left, and Rob checking on the ryegrass in field

David, left, and Rob checking on the ryegrass - Credit: Cannon Hall farm

Lambs, piglets, goats and ponies pull in the visitors at Cannon Hall Farm, made famous on TV,  but brothers Rob and Dave Nicholson are every bit the attraction. Susan Griffin caught up with the farmers 

Farmers Rob and Dave Nicholson from Yorkshire’s Cannon Hall Farm could never have predicted they’d become household names, and yet they’re regularly recognised by fans who follow their activities on TV and social media. 
'Just the other day, we went over this toll bridge on the River Trent, and this lady says, Oh my god, it’s you two. I had a dream you’d come to my bridge one day, and you’re here,' says Rob. 
And Dave was stopped in Spain by a woman from Cornwall who was keen to compliment him on the programme. 
'It’s always flattering and fun to have a chat with someone if they like the show,' he admits.
While Channel 5’s Springtime on the Farm, which honours farmers during their busiest season, kickstarted their TV careers in 2018, it was This Week on the Farm, filmed during lockdown, that cemented their new-found fame, as well as their regular online updates. 
It’s reached the point that people are now visiting Cannon Hall Farm, on the outskirts of Barnsley, as much to meet the brothers, as they are the farm animals.
'We went into lockdown full of uncertainty as to whether we would have a business left at the end of it, so we chose to broadcast every day on social media, to keep people informed of what was happening on the farm when they couldn’t go out, and it grew from there. People who have watched us in lockdown are now coming from all over the country to see us, as well as the animals,' observes Rob, 53, who acknowledges farming has never been so in vogue.
'I never thought I’d be in an industry that was fashionable. We do it because we were born into it, and love it, and it’s just what we do every day of the year. To all of a sudden be doing something that people are really interested in is staggering.'
There are now numerous TV series dedicated to the farming industry, including Jeremy Clarkson’s offering on Amazon Prime Video, and Kelvin Fletcher’s on the BBC.
'To be honest, when Jeremy Clarkson did Top Gear, I had no time for him, but I watched Clarkson’s Farm and really liked him, far more than I expected to, and Kelvin Fletcher actually cut his teeth with us in the first series of Springtime on the Farm, so we’d like to take a little bit of credit for allowing him to take his first steps into TV farming, apart from Emmerdale, of course,' says Rob who believes farming shows provide an element of nostalgia, reminding people of simpler times, a slower pace of life and fond memories of the countryside.  

Robert, David and Roger outside the White Bull restaurant

Robert, David and Roger outside the White Bull restaurant at Cannon Hall Farm - Credit: Cannon Hall Farm

But the series often demonstrate just how tough farming can be as well, not only physically, but financially, too, especially in the current climate.
'You’re working with the seasons, but all sorts of factors can work against you, not just the weather,' remarks Dave, 51. 
'For instance, the price of fertiliser has tripled so don’t know how arable farmers are going to make a living, unless the price of the product triples too, which isn’t good for consumers. And the fuel costs? It’s going to be a difficult time.'
It's no wonder the brothers are grateful Cannon Hall is a popular visitor attraction, as well as a working farm, but it’s not always been plain sailing.
'We’re lucky to be here because 30 years ago the bank wanted repaying, and we could have lost the farm. We found another bank to take on our debt and that’s when we opened to the public [in 1989]. So, we owe the public a big thank you for supporting us, and hopefully they’ve made a lot of good memories visiting us over the years,' says Dave who’s married to Anita, and has one daughter, Poppy.

Rob and Dave lambing

Rob and Dave lambing - it's a relief when the marathon is over by the end of May - Credit: Channel 5

The brothers’ unexpected TV career is due to Paul Stead, the brains behind The Yorkshire Vet, who got in contact in 2017 to ask if they’d appear on a farming programme.
'We’d been on BBC Look North a little bit when it was lambing time and always enjoyed it, so we said where do we sign, and we’ve loved every minute since,' reveals Rob who considers himself 'reasonably' confident when it comes to filming. 
'I always try and do better, but sometimes you can try too hard when you’re better being yourself, so we just try and be as relaxed and natural as we can be, which is why the live programmes works so well because you’ve just got to roll with it. And the presenters Helen Skelton and Jules Hudson are brilliant at what they do. We see them socially now as well, so we’re making friends and making memories.'
Dave doesn’t consider himself such a natural in front of the camera.
'I’m not that slick on telly. When we did the first Springtime, it was very stressful. If I got a sentence out that sounded okay, I was pleased, but like Rob says, the team’s brilliant and we have a top laugh with them, usually at my expense, but I’m getting better. Not so long ago, I would’ve run a mile at the idea of doing live TV.'

A farm that's a family affair: Dad Roger with Dave, Richard and Rob as children

A farm that's a family affair: Dad Roger with Dave, Richard and Rob as children - Credit: Cannon Hall Farm

They recently appeared on a new series of Springtime on the Farm, and have also published a new book, Springtime at Cannon Hall Farm following the success of Living Our Best Lives.
'Whereas the last was about our dad Roger’s story, nearly losing the farm, fighting back and eventually establishing a successful business, this one focuses on the spring months, not just with regards to the business and attraction, but stories from when we were growing up,' says Rob who has two children, Tom and Katie, with wife Julia, and a two-year-old granddaughter, Nelly.

 Cannon Hall Farm

Rob, Dave and Richard helpout at the farm’s pumpkin festival. - Credit: Cannon Hall Farm

Most of the family contribute to the farm in some capacity, including a third brother, Richard, but working in such close proximity with relatives can understandably be intense at times.
'Families can be the best and the worst of things, but we all acknowledge and understand we’re stronger together, and I’m proud of the fact we’ve never fallen out,' adds Rob.
He and Dave credit the support of their families, as well as their workforce, for allowing them to seize any opportunities that come their way because whereas they’re farmers for life, they won’t necessarily be on our screens forever.
'We’ve got a new series we filmed abroad that’s currently in the edit, and more filming to do this year, but we don’t take anything for granted,' he notes. 
'We know there will come a time when that phone doesn’t ring, but we had a nice life before TV, and hopefully we’ll have a nice life after it as well. It’s just a nice thing at our age to try something different. We never thought we would, and we’re enjoying the ride.'


cannonhallfarm.co.uk