Filming for the sixth series of This Farming Life (TFL) is well underway across Scotland, with the next instalment looking likely to have captured one of the most challenging times for the country’s farmers, of late.

The popular BBC farming show has captured the hearts and minds of the public for the past six years, giving viewers an intimate and raw insight into the highs and lows of farming life.

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The Scottish Farmer caught up with Executive Producer Jo Roe, who has been working on the programme since series two and shared some behind the scenes reflections on what it has been like for her and the teams to be part of one of BBC Scotland’s most loved and watched series.

“I have been lucky enough to be involved with TFL since series two and It never ceases to amaze me the wonderful families that we work with and the way in which they welcome us into their lives,” said Jo.

“The farmers we work with go out of their way to make our teams feel at home and it often goes way beyond a cup of tea. Cakes are baked, biscuit tins provided, lunches made, our teams become part of the family. It’s maybe no wonder why so many of the same researchers and filming crew come back from series to series.

“For TV crews, TFL is an unusual and special gig, in that our teams spend so much time with the farmers, over such a long period of time, which allows strong relationships to develop.”

Jo explained that the filming teams are often out with the farmers for three to four days a week, every week and through all weathers, including the recent cold spell in mid-December, which was particularly challenging for farmers Scotland-wide.

“It is a tough job for our crews, but they love the rhythm of the work, the insight in to farming life and the art of telling real stories,” Jo continued. “Our edit teams who piece together all the clips for the episodes love the opportunity to tell incredible stories, capturing both the moving and warm moments we frequently see, but also the raw and emotional times.

“For me as Executive Producer, it is one of the best jobs in documentaries, as it is an opportunity to tell long form stories, which is quite rare. It is a real privilege to be in people’s lives for almost a year, you can live and breathe those stories across the seasons and get a real understanding for the farming calendar. I think that is why viewers love it, we take them along on that journey too.”

Jo believes what makes TFL so endearing, is that it follows the lives of ordinary folk doing challenging jobs that they put their heart and soul in to and audiences can really identify with that.

“There is no artifice or a celebrity in sight, just real folk, and honest stories. If someone had said to me before working on TFL that I’d be producing 12, one-hour episodes on farming, every series, I might have thought we would run out of things to see and say, but we never do. Every series brings new themes, new story lines and new characters.”

Every year TFL has tried to capture different challenges facing farmers, with previous series following farmers battling through the beast from the east, which caused huge destruction and livestock losses in Scotland, but also the impact of Brexit and more recently the pandemic, and how farming responded to the country coming to a halt but farming going in to overdrive.

“Over the spread of the years working on the series, farming has got more challenging every year,” reflected Jo. “Covid was fascinating, as we saw public perception of farmers really change as they reconnected with local and there was definitely a sense of ‘let’s support our own’ and the produce that is here on our doorstep. Our farmers on the programme responded to this too and we saw many of them looking at alternative routes to market for their produce, direct selling with meat boxes or through farm shops. This is something that has very much grown and features across the different series.

“We love that we do touch on all sorts of issues, some that are very specific to the time we are filming, like hearing our farmers’ thoughts about Brexit, but the more powerful ones are perennial, like succession or navigating working with your partner and family. For our audience, we are genuinely getting under the skins of farmers.

She explained that the team are careful when selecting which farms to go with and try to get a broad sweep of farms going through different challenges.

“It is great how our farmers get on board with letting us see it all,” Jo said, “the rough with the smooth, that is part of the deal. It is definitely not a whitewash.”

Since TFL aired on our tv screens there has been a surge in interest in farming programmes and many others springing up across different networks. Clarkson’s Farm went to the top of Amazon’s most watched series when it launched and viewers were mesmerised by Jeremy’s first year in farming, the ups and the downs, and similar to TFL, it didn’t hide the harsh realities of trying to make a business profitable when you have little control over external pressures like weather and government red tape.

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“There are a lot more farming shows out there since we started with TFL,” continued Jo, “but the series has remained extremely popular, there doesn’t seem to be a dent in appetite across the country. Producers have cottoned on to the fact that there is a bubbling interest in farming.”

The past year was a particularly challenging time for farmers across Scotland, with many bank balances hit by soaring input costs, particularly fertiliser and energy bills, which eroded profits to be made from strong lamb or beef prices. Series six of This Farming Life looks to capture some of these challenges and will follow the new farming families as they navigate rising costs, extreme weather patterns and labour challenges, and try to steer their businesses to steadier waters.

“I’m really excited to share with viewers the sixth series of TFL when it is ready to launch and we can once again promise powerful storylines, fascinating characters and a fitting tribute to Scotland’s beautiful countryside and its farming custodians,” concluded Jo Roe.