OPINION: Why awards are good for farming

A couple of Fridays ago I was in a black cab, trying to hotfoot it from Park Lane to St Pancras to catch a late train.

I was wearing my dinner jacket, which would not be an unusual sight for a London cabbie at that hour of the evening, but I was clutching a copy of Farmers Weekly, which I doubt he sees too often.

Our conversation began on the niceties of the Crossrail link and the weather before he asked why I was holding a copy of the Yellow Peril.

“I am attending a farming awards dinner,” I replied.

“What’s that for then?” came his chipper Stepney reply. “Best pork chop?”

I smiled politely, but couldn’t quite decide if his comment was a sleight on farming or a reflection of how far removed our customers are from their primary producers. I suppose a bit of both. But at least he knew that we have pig farmers in the UK and that they produce pork.

The Farmers Weekly Awards are about so much more than finding Britain’s best pork chop (although that could be another category for next year). But do awards have a purpose for the industry or are they, as one rather cynical farmer put it to me the following day (I think he was sore that he hadn’t received an invite from his feed supplier), merely a vehicle for individuals to crow about their achievements, sponsors to get in front of their target audience and media titles to sell magazines?

The FW Awards is a very social event, an amazing 1,200-plus farmers, growers, suppliers and office-holders – a veritable who’s who in ag – sitting down in the ballroom at the Grosvenor Hotel for dinner, which in itself is a staggering culinary achievement.

But awards aren’t necessarily gala events. Best-growing crop of wheat is highly sought-after at our local farm competition, as is best young handler at many a stock show. Being such a diverse industry, made up of so many small businesses, awards in whatever shape or size offer healthy competition and a chance for talent to be recognised.

But many ask if awards bring out the best, or do they only encourage the bold to apply? I think that they offer a great opportunity for people to propose others’ talents. I cannot illustrate this better than my recent attendance of the Bayer/FACE awards (I was there in a formal capacity not on yet another jolly, before you ask). The purpose of these is to recognise the achievements of those that go above and beyond in their quest to reconnect and educate children or those less fortunate or with learning disability with farming and landscapes.

It was a most humbling experience, not the fanfare of the Grosvenor Hotel, but a small gathering where we heard stories of how farmers are positively impacting other people’s lives. Without that award ceremony, not nearly enough people would have been aware of their amazing efforts.

Of course, there are things that I would change about awards: I wish that more women would put themselves forward (or be nominated) and there were more awards for the supply industry without which our industry would grind to a halt. But by and large they promote and encourage progress and best practice.

My cabbie would have been bowled over by the entrepreneurial talent and leadership on display at the Farmers Weekly Awards and humbled by the devotion, care and kindness evident at the Bayer/FACE event. And anything that gathers the whole industry together in one room to celebrate should be applauded.

Not just best pork chop, best of British farming.

Ian Pigott farms 700ha in Hertfordshire. The farm is a LEAF demonstration unit. Ian is also the founder of Open Farm Sunday.

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