5 January 2001

Exploit public sympathy to aid farmings future

By Isabel Davies

THE chief executive of the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE) Mike Calvert will today (Fri) urge the industry to act while there is an opportunity to improve the publics understanding of farming.

Addressing the Oxford Farming Conference, Mr Calvert will argue that the industry needs to take advantage of the fact there is now some public sympathy for farmers and that many people have a genuine desire to know more about food and farming issues.

He is expected to argue that educating children and informing the broader population will not help the short-term situation or in itself solve the problems of the farming community but it could make a significant contribution to its future.

And if the industry responds to the concerns and desires of the public it can reasonably expect much more support from the community as a whole.

Mr Calvert will suggest this requires a change in attitude from the farming community. In the past the industry has all too often been caught on the back foot. He will argue that farmers will have to be more up front and prepared to lead the debate in the future.

Mr Calverts comments follow research which shows children as young as seven have formed a poor opinion of farmers and farming.

Liza Dibble of the Countryside Foundation for Education will reveal that a series of interviews conducted with children visiting a farm in Cirencester showed strong negative attitudes.

Delegates will be shown a video commissioned by the Oxford Conf-erence and sponsored by the RASE which shows what children from town and country areas really think.

Asked before they visited the farm how they would describe a farmer the children typically replied "ugly, old, sweaty, hairy and scruffy".

And questioned whether they thought farmers were good or bad for the environment the responses were again negative.

The children, who were from schools in Swindon, Cheltenham and other areas of Glos, said farmers were always killing things, they sprayed crops with pesticides and grew GM crops.

And although children from rural areas displayed a better knowledge of farming and the countryside their attitudes to children from Swindon were very similar.

However, Ms Dibble is expected to argue there is some reason for optimism. "The good news is these children are capable of reasoning, all we have to do is equip the teachers with the information and enable and enthuse them to blend farming and countryside issues into the national curriculum." &#42