THIS CHRISTMAS it must seem to many farmers that Mr Scrooge has taken control of agriculture.
We have commodity prices at depressingly low levels and input prices on the rise. We have a government keen to ratchet back our CAP payments and impose ever-greater red tape. We have retailers keen to drive down farmgate prices and show little loyalty to home producers.
We have consumers who never hear about the merits of British farm produce or know exactly where their food comes from. We thought the belt had run out of notches but it would seem it must be tightened yet again.
The Ghost of Christmas Future raises the spectre of a British agriculture in a state of dereliction. The temptation for many will be to pocket their single farm payment and walk away from production. As one cynic pointed out to me at Smithfield – single farm payment? Single farm pension more like. But being seen to take subsidies without producing anything will create a raft of more problems of public perception.
We should be wary of talking ourselves into this downward spiral. Our problems are genuine but the danger is that we will become part of the problem and not part of the solution. An industry that perceives itself as a dying industry will become a dead industry. We should put away Mr Scrooge and turn instead to Mr Pickwick who said: “This is a world of action and not for moping and droning in”.
We all have opportunities to promote ourselves and our produce. Together we are an army over 100,000 strong. If we all concentrated on communicating a few effective messages to the non-farming public then these messages might just get heard. I would suggest there are three we should focus on.
First, that British farm produce is more safe, more affordable and more wholesome than it has ever been. Second, that British farmers have one of the best animal welfare records in the world. Third, that British farmers care for and manage one of the loveliest farmed landscapes – the British countryside. How do we get these messages across?
Several years ago a farmer wrote to me to ask if I had any simple, easy to read literature that made the case for British agriculture that he could then leave in his farmhouse B&B bedrooms for his guests.
That set me thinking. There must be thousands of farmers with opportunities to meet the public who could hand out literature to promote British farming. Be it B&Bs, farm shops, open farms, farmers’ markets, country shows; the list was endless.
Furthermore farmers are well placed in their local communities to leave literature where people may pick it up; such as village halls, schools or the vet/dentist waiting rooms.
The more I thought about this, the more I thought it ridiculous that, as an industry, we did not have a source of booklets that people could use if they had the opportunity to hand something out. Farmers are resourceful, imaginative people who want to do more to promote their industry.
Two years later I am proud to announce I have produced 200,000 copies of a booklet that might help fill this gap. It is 28 pages long with an emphasis on colourful graphics and simple messages. For example, page three and four list 10 good reasons to eat British farm produce.
Page five and six list good reasons to visit and enjoy the farmed countryside. Pages seven and eight show how the main features of the countryside, such as hedges and ditches, are created by farmers and maintained by farmers. And so on through the rest of the book.
Thanks to the generosity of the sponsors they are free to whoever wants them; all I ask for is payment for postage. More details can be found at www.voiceofbritishagriculture.com.
Christmas is a time to think about giving and the New Year is a time for resolutions. So this year resolve to give more information out that makes the case for British agriculture.
Make no mistake, no one else will do this for us. We must do this for ourselves.