FARMERS NEED to create “unholy alliances” with people the general public trusts to help boost the farming industry‘s image.
Ian Kenny, head of agricultural policy at NatWest bank, told FARMERS WEEKLY that farming created a lot of good for the countryside and the environment.
“But the general image of farming doesn‘t reflect this. That‘s why we need to get involved with people who are trusted by the public and who can vouch for farmers‘ environmental record.
“The problem isn‘t solved by farmers speaking on behalf of their own industry,” Mr Kenny said.
He recommended that individual farmers should get in touch with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, one of the largest charities in the UK and one that is trusted by the public.
“The RSPB are the people we need to talk to. Farmers should contact the RSPB and invite its local representatives onto their farms.
“By engaging with the RSPB and showing them what they do for the environment, farmers will benefit greatly in terms of their public image as custodians of the environment and the countryside,” Mr Kenny said.
He acknowledged that many farmers may still consider the RSPB an unlikely partner, since farmers tend to expect the charity to hit them, but he argued such fears are exaggerated.
“Things have changed. The RSPB has moved towards farmers and has an interest in working with the farming industry,” Mr Kenny said.
He emphasised that he was not talking about the NFU talking to the RSPB, but rather about local, individual farmers engaging with local representatives of the society.
“It is the work of individual, local farmers on the ground that would make such an ‘unholy alliance‘ with the RSPB credible.
“Individual farmers should consider getting in touch with the organisation at the local level, and if they are uncertain about how best to approach them, they can get advice from the local LEAF or FWAG advisers,” Mr Kenny said.
He pointed out that all this would not require a lot of extra environmental effort for farmers.
“The point is that farmers‘ environmental record is very good already and has improved a lot.
“The environment is a bi-product of food production that farmers should learn to sell.
“The decline in bird numbers, for instance, is a thing of the past, and we need the RSPB to say that things are changing.
“Farmers have created the environment and biodiversity on their farms, and they should learn to sell it to the public,” he added.