Most of the farms here were developed and improved at the end of the 18th Century. Indeed, the older buildings on the farms all show a similar style and design. Up until the early 20th Century farming was a very labour intensive industry employing mainly shepherds and farm labourers. Shepherds were part of the resident community of Ford and Etal whereas the farm labourers were either single men (‘hinds’) or married men hired with their wives (‘bondagers’) on an annual basis to work the land in return for accommodation and a small wage.
With advances in technology over the last 40 years farm machinery has become more and more sophisticated, bringing about a steady decline in numbers of farm workers and a need to amalgamate several farms into larger units with redundant farmhouses and cottages being let to private tenants.
Today there are some 35 farms on the estate the majority of which are rented out to tenant farmers whose businesses revolve around growing traditional crops, like barley (for the brewing and distilling industries), wheat (for animal feed and flour), oilseed rape (for oils to be included in animal feeds and for industrial uses) and raising livestock, principally sheep and cattle for meat production. There are also considerable areas of potatoes and carrots grown for supermarkets. This area of north Northumberland has an annual rainfall of only about 600mm (25inches) so that irrigation of potato and carrot fields is sometimes necessary.