21 December 2001

Agriculture needs body to restore public image

By Andrew Blake

THE public image of farmers and knowledge of what they can provide for society needs transforming through a new organisation offering a recognised professional qualification, claims a leading advocate of integrated methods.

"It is time we set up a professional institute for our industry," says Robert Campbell, North Yorks farmer and chairman of the Linking Environment and Farming initiative. "Too often in my life the fact that my profession is a farmer immediately places me in the poorly educated and unqualified category."

The new institute, with high professional and educational expectations, would raise the profile of farmers and help outsiders, including many within government, understand the complexities of the job, Mr Campbell told a meeting organised by agchem supplier Dow Agrosciences in London last week.

With politicians hesitating to provide long-term guidance, now is the time for agriculture to ally itself more closely with other industries for mutual benefit, he believes.

The terms of reference of the Policy Commission for Food and Farming are remarkably similar to LEAFs 10-year-old mission statement, he says. "We could almost consider it a case of plagiarism."

Selling point

Farmers have a unique selling point in that they harvest the suns energy. "Very few other industries do that. Essentially we can produce nearly anything the market demands."

Food, fuel, shelter, clothing, drugs, pharmaceuticals, insulation materials, beauty products, landscapes, environment, birds, butterflies and places to walk, ride and use for other recreations are all possible.

"Our biggest problem is trying to identify what the 99% of the population that are not farmers want."

Environmental benefits

Innovative approaches will be needed to develop a market for the environmental benefits citizens in developed countries require.

LEAF believes whole-farm planning must be based on a much simplified but rewarding support structure. "The list of compliance measures, plans, records, licences, certificates and forms is now almost endless, and the pressure it places on our industry is almost unbearable.

"To consolidate all this into a single farm plan with a prior knowledge of the support that plan will generate, will, I believe, free farmers from the routine and so enable them to innovate." &#42