Opinion: Farm rubbish is a PR disaster for the industry

This weekend, farms all over the country will open their gates to their non-farming neighbours.

Leaf’s Open Farm Sunday and Speak Out campaign show the public the best of British agriculture, and help farmers communicate what they do to produce quality food and look after the countryside.

Shame then that not everyone is “on message”, as I found out on a holiday walk through one farm.

The track up to the yard had taken me past an abandoned caravan, a dubious bonfire site and a collection of empty plastic mineral buckets along the fence beside me.

See also: Preparation is the key to success for Open Farm Sunday

As I walked up the track, I realised that when the farmer puts buckets out in the field, the empties simply blow up against the fence.

They have gathered over the years, so now there is one every few yards, interspersed with old silage wrap and other refuse.

Sheep were running around in the farmyard, which had hurdles blocking the footpath, and there was a fine collection of rubbish, some half burnt on another bonfire site.

It also had several of those kinds of vehicles that come on to the farm and never leave.

Marginal area

This farm is in a marginal area, and making a living on it must be pretty hard (though the sheep I saw clearly did not lack a supplementary diet).

My family farmed in a marginal area, too – but it didn’t make us Steptoe & Son. How long would it take to go along that fenceline and retrieve the buckets and other crap?

As an industry, farming is uniquely on view, especially from public rights of way.

We were on a well-used bridleway and anyone coming along it could claim that their taxes are paying for the rubbish, plus the Discovery and the Trojan parked in the yard. In the future farming world, they might be asking what public goods the farm is providing.

OK, I’m always telling farmers that orderliness is not next to Godliness when it comes to wildlife conservation. So this farmer may be the sort I love in other ways, too – low input, knows his birds, always farmed with nature in mind etc. But that’s where it ends.

The fire sites cannot sit with Waste Regulations, and a good downpour would take a load of polluting stuff down the track from the yard into a stream.

If I were carrying out an inventory of natural capital on this farm, the lapwing and curlew I saw would be (metaphorically) wiped out by the pollutants and the piles of refuse.

When I see something like this, I start to question someone’s right to farm “just how they like”. You can bet a civil servant down a Defra corridor somewhere is thinking it too. Farming Rules for Farming? Wait and see.

This is a crucial time for the industry, and its relations with government and a wider public are under scrutiny as never before. Pesticide withdrawals, meat eating, vermin control – what next?

Farmers and their representative bodies have a massive job putting the case for agriculture to the taxpayer and Whitehall.

They should not have to hold their breath waiting for the next time a farm like the one I saw stops getting away with it. Farms like this are a PR disaster waiting to happen. Get those plastic buckets out of the fence.

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