As evidence grows that Open Farm Sunday is playing a valuable role in improving the perception of farming among the public, there are calls for more farmers to get involved and open their farms to visitors in 2013.
Organised by LEAF, the event is now in its eighth year, and is expected to welcome its millionth visitor on to a UK farm on 9 June. Last year, 335 farms opened to 150,000 visitors, events co-ordinator Annabel Shackleton said.
“Surveys of visitors and host farmers, and now third-party reports and research, are showing Open Farm Sunday is helping consumers understand the role of farmers. It can also be a business benefit for those who take part,” she said.
Four out of five farmers reported real business benefits from events they hosted in 2012. A raised local profile and better community relations were two of the main benefits, according to host farmer feedback.
“For those farms with a diversified enterprise, it’s a great way to boost sales,” said Mrs Shackleton.
“Another key benefit to the business is the ‘feel good’ factor. As much as three months after Open Farm Sunday, some farmers I spoke to were still buzzing from the positive experience of hosting an event. They were proud of what they had achieved and heartened by the positive feedback from visitors.”
Events are getting bigger, she said, with 70% of farms receiving more than 100 visitors in 2012 and the average being 449. “We’re keen to point out that events do not need to be large. A number of farmers choose to host a small farm walk for less than 50 locals, and these events are just as valued.”
2012 key stats
- 150,000 visitors welcomed on farm
- More than 5,000 helpers participated
- 335 farms opened their gates
- 46% increase in visitors from towns and cities
- 70% had not visited a farm before
- 30% of farmers took part for the first time
- 79% of hosts reported a business benefit
Managing larger events and tailoring publicity to both large and smaller events will be addressed at a series of free information workshops LEAF will be holding across Britain in February and April (see Open Farm Sunday 2013 gets under way, above right).
Visitor surveys revealed that 99% of people rated their day as “good”, “amazing” or “brilliant”. Open Farm Sunday also attracted an increasingly urban audience, said Mrs Shackleton, with 70% of visitors making it their first visit to a farm.
“No other national event is focused on engaging families on farms, and the visitor surveys also show that their knowledge of a farmer’s role in producing food and caring for the countryside improves as a direct result of their visit. There’s a huge interest among the general public in food and farming, which is why we’re really keen for more farms to open in 2013 and build on this success.”
Registration for farms wishing to open in 2013 has now started at www.farmsunday.org. As in previous years, host farms receive full, free support from LEAF, including training, a resource pack to help with publicity and activities, and help and guidance on health and safety.
“This year we’re introducing a buddy system, so new hosts can be put in touch with farmers in their area who have more experience,” said Mrs Shackleton.
“This is in addition to the regional co-ordinators who run the information events, provide local support and help with publicity. Thanks to generous industry sponsorship, all of this support is provided to host farmers free of charge.”
Also new in 2013 will be pilot Open Farm School Days. The aim is to involve at least 30 farms which will host visits for local schoolchildren between 3-14 June. “We’re looking to support farmers who are new to school visits, but would like to build stronger links with their local school.
“We’re also hoping this will encourage schools to seek the opportunities on offer from learning out on farm,” added Mrs Shackleton.
Huge potential for public engagement
Open Farm Sunday was singled out at the Oxford Farming Conference for the contribution it makes to wider society. Research carried out for the conference asked the question: What do UK farmers deliver to society?
The report highlighted the substantial, but often unrecorded benefits individual farmers deliver, and concluded: “There is potential for much greater engagement between farmers and the public. Although participation in Open Farm Sunday has grown markedly, the number of farms involved is just 0.15% of the total number of agricultural holdings in the UK and 0.8% of the total number of holdings of over 100ha.”
Conference chairman Mike Gooding noted the connection with farmers is highly valued by the public. “That’s not about watching it on Countryfile, but actually going on to farms and meeting a farmer. The consequence of a shrinking farming population is that this will become more of a challenge.
“Open Farm Sunday is therefore a valuable opportunity for farmers to connect with wider society. For very little effort and very little cost, the benefits are multiple, both for industry and for individual farm businesses.”
Pollinator survey shows value of citizen science
A project to count pollinating insects on farms at Open Farm Sunday 2012 has been hailed as a triumph for citizen science. Visitors to 36 of the events on 17 June took part in the Pollinator Survey, funded by Syngenta and led by scientists from the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH).
The data, which provided a snapshot of insect activity on UK farms, was presented to the British Ecological Society’s annual meeting in Birmingham last month. Helen Roy of CEH said the project showed the value of citizen science in contributing to information gathered on farms.
“Before we ran the project, we couldn’t have imagined how successful it would be in participation and accuracy – the data collected by visitors was almost identical to data collected by experts,” said Dr Roy.
“The work supports the growing body of evidence that arable crops and grassland support a large number of pollinating insects, and that flowering margins and hedgerows are fantastically valuable resources for insect communities.”
Covering 23 counties, the survey was the first time a nationwide count of pollinating insects on farms had ever been taken on one day. With poor weather running up to the event, and much of the country overcast on the day, expectations were low.
“We never imagined we’d count that number of insects. We were also surprised by the diversity of insects that were found, many of which play an important part in food production as pest controllers and pollinators.”
Bees were highest on flowering crops with many also found in flowering margins and hedgerows. Pasture and cereal crops saw the lowest numbers. “It’s important to provide a matrix of different habitats to ensure resources for pollinating insects at different times of the year,” said Dr Roy.
“If the project is repeated, the first year’s data will provide valuable foundation information that subsequent datasets will then add to, and build a nationwide understanding of insects visiting flowers on farms. We’re keen to get more detailed data, such as how many of the flies found were hoverflies, and proportion of bees that were bumblebees,” she said.
“But I think those visiting farms on the day were genuinely surprised at the diversity of insect life in the agricultural landscape. For me it was wonderful to see people of all ages taking part and getting such enjoyment from a scientific study. It’s a great way to engage people and a positive memory I’d hope they’d hold on to.”
Open Farm Sunday 2013 gets under way
Free information events in February and April offer training on how to publicise an event, health and safety and how to engage with visitors on farm.
Brampton, Cumbria CA8 7DB
Stirling, Scotland FK7 7LS*
Chelmsford, Essex CM3 3LQ
Driffield, Yorks YO25 8BS
Hereford, Herefordshire HR4 8QN
Wymondham, Norfolk NR18 9DB
Myton-on-Swale, Yorks YO61 2QU
Retford, Notts DN22 9HU
Hargrave, Northants NN9 6BP
Barry, Wales CF62 3AS
Powys, Wales LD2 3NJ
Craven Arms, Shrops SY7 9HJ
Newbury, Berks RG20 8LR
Sevenoaks, Kent TN15 0SD
Chester CH2 4EB
Ferryhill, Co Durham DL17 9EB
Ross-shire, Scotland IV15 9TP*
Clitheroe, Lancs BB7 3BN
Launceston, Cornwall PL15 8QE
Banbury, Oxon OX15 6AW
S Petherton, Somerset TA13 5DJ
All February events take place between 2.00-4.30pm apart from *Ross-shire which is from 1pm-3.30pm
April events are between 5.30pm-8.30pm with *Stirling the exception from 2pm-4.30pm
Farmers planning to host events on 9 June 2013 should register at www.farmsunday.org. To book a place at an information event, visit the website or call LEAF on 02476 413 911.
Open Farm Sunday sponsors for 2013 include: Asda, Farmers Weekly, Frontier Agriculture, John Deere, LEAF Marque, Marks & Spencer, NFU, Syngenta, Waitrose, DairyCo, BPEX, EBLEX, HGCA.