Nocton debate shows need for investment in PR

The farming industry needs to invest in public relations specialists to communicate the reality of modern agriculture and counter criticism from activists.

Jay Rayner restaurant critic with the Observer gave the warning during a discussion about the Nocton Dairy proposal at the NFU Conference (16 Feb).

The comments were made ahead of the news that the company behind the project has withdrawn its planning application.

During a panel discussion titled ‘Is modern agriculture palatable?’ Mr Rayner said he thought dairies like Nocton could allow farmers to compete, halting the decline in the sector.

“It may not be attractive, it may not be what the consumers wants their dairy industry to look like, but as far as I can see it’s a solution,” he said.

But the debate around Nocton, and the perception that the public would disapprove of such a development, had been given fuel by a lack of positive PR by agriculture to combat activist groups, he added.

“The industry has to look at how it communicates to the media, not just to the industry and government. Basically it needs to work out a way to kill those page three Daily Mail stories which misrepresent what agriculture is,” Mr Rayner said.

“There is a failure of imagination. You need to employ some PR people to communicate the realities of agricultural production in the 21st century.”

Farm minister Jim Paice said farmers had to compete with imports from elsewhere and that is why systems that lowered the cost of production were very important.

“I can’t comment specifically on Nocton…but as an individual the concept of large scale farming I have no problem with. It is part of the overall lowering of costs. I’m excited people are willing to invest in an area which most people see as declining.”  

The panellists largely agreed that the days of ‘cheap and abundant food’ had ended and that in order for farmers to produce more, people would need to pay more in the future for food.

“The British public needs to understand we have to spend more on food,” said Mr Rayner.

Read more NFU Conference coverage 2011