Farmers should take advantage of public goodwill – as evidenced by a recent IGD survey – and project a more positive image,  former Sun editor David Yelland told the Oxford Farming Conference this week.

To some extent, farmers were their own worst enemy, he said.

“You have been making the right arguments, but to the wrong people and have been using the language of the victim, not the victor,” he said. “If you treat the rest of society as some kind of adversary, you can’t be surprised if it treats you accordingly.”

Mr Yelland used the example of the British Army as one organisation that had transformed its image.“The Army uses words like ‘brave`, ‘decisive`, ‘fitness`, ‘pride`, ‘service`, ‘family` and ‘country` to describe itself – evocative words that mean real things to British people. But if I Google ‘farming`, I get a lot of negative language like ‘risk`, ‘appalled`, ‘plummeting`, ‘decline`, ‘awful`, ‘failure` and ‘nightmare`. The media pick up on this.”

Mr Yelland said farming needed to listen more – “the single most underestimated trait of successful people” – and spend more time talking to consumers rather than talking to itself.

But NFU vice-president Paul Temple said the organisation was planning to step up its campaigning in the next 18 months , to counter the misinformation being fed to consumers and to overcome government apathy towards productive agriculture.

All too often, the sector was being denigrated by single-issue lobby groups who portrayed farming as destructive to the environment, cruel to animals and bad for human health, he told the conference.

And, despite the problems facing the global industry in recent months – climate change, food riots and economic recession – the government was only just waking up to the message that “farming matters”.

“Even now, DEFRA pays only lip service to food security while still preaching the environmental agenda with an evangelical zeal,” said Mr Temple.

The NFU therefore planned to campaign on the need for a new balance between productive agriculture and the environment. “Reafirming what is important about UK farming is essential, because if we don’t do it, who will?”