Here’s a curious thing: Key the words “UK agriculture” into Google and whose website would you expect to head the list?
Or the NFU?
No, what you’ll come up with is a site called www.ukagriculture.com.
So what government-funded quango or faceless industry grouping is behind it?
To find out, you’ll need to journey, not to an office block in London, but a 300ha (741-acre) arable farm near Horndean in Hants.
Here, David Uren has been quietly trying to improve farming’s dowdy public image for years.
He has always been perplexed by the industry’s inability to shift the negative perceptions the public had built up about farming and farmers in the 1970s and 1980s.
Even now many people think farmers rip out hedges for the fun of it, keep livestock in horribly crowded conditions, drive Range Rovers and receive huge subsidies to boot.
“I could see that individual farmers were too small to be able to affect public perceptions,” he says.
“And the NFU and other bodies were fighting a rearguard action in terms of farmers’ image.
“At the same time I could see that more and more people would be communicating via the internet, so in late 1998 I thought about setting up a website that could promote all that was good about the industry.”
He suggested the website route to the main bodies in agriculture but the idea fell on deaf ears.
Somewhat in desperation, he decided to go it alone, registering the domain name www.ukagriculture.com and gathering content he thought reflected the real face of 21st-century agriculture.
It’s been a labour of love, with untold 1000s of hours spent photographing local hedge and pond restoration projects, chronicling the daily lives of typical arable and stock producers, taking pictures and trawling through DEFRA statistics.
The only help came from “townie” web developer Trevor Boult who has also committed many hours to the project.
The result is a surprisingly comprehensive site of the sort you won’t see elsewhere in agriculture.
And with 800 visitors to the site a day (700,000 in total to date), many from schools and colleges, he really feels he’s beginning to get the message across.
So what does the site cover?
Conservation: Pictures and details of hedge, pond and ancient grassland restoration projects that show just how much farmers have been doing. Statistics: If you are a student doing a project on a farming topic, how do you find out how many acres of wheat there are the in UK, how many dairy cows or pigs? Easy — look at the site. History: Farming has been shaping the landscape for 6000 years and the public has farmers to thank for the way the countryside looks today. The site explains how. Field to fridge: Pictorial coverage of a day in the life of different types of farm and of the different foods produced by UK farmers, Farming issues: Even-handed coverage of farming issues like food self-sufficiency, GM crops, subsidies, food miles and pesticides.
How you can help
It’s all impressive stuff, but Mr Uren is aware that one farmer on his own can only put so much material on a website in an average year.
So he wants other like-minded farmers to get involved.
More livestock articles — basic explanations of beef, pork and lamb fattening systems, health and breeding. He also wants 10 or so farmers around the UK who can provide a pictorial diary of life on their farm throughout the year. The site is run through a not-for-profit company and he would like to hear from others who would like to be more formally involved.