Some storms appear suddenly from a clear sky; others escalate over time.
The current culture of media-led assaults on food production and farming is, I would argue, a combination of both.
For years, farmers have been subject to an undercurrent of critical misinformation surrounding everything from bovine TB to biodiversity.
The Brexit vote of 2016 – which spurred a frenzied atmosphere of the countryside being “up for grabs” for those with the loudest voices (and deepest pockets) as policy returns to the UK – has led to a cascade of claptrap on everything from pest control to pesticides.
Deluge of drivel
Who is best placed to counter this tidal wave of tosh, this deluge of drivel? You are.
In 2019, it takes 8.6sec of media engagement to come across a fatuously misleading report on British agriculture of which the Orwellian Ministry of Truth would be proud. Well, it certainly feels that way.
It’s easy to get angry – while drilling your wild bird seed mix or checking your quietly grazing livestock – to hear that you are somehow personally responsible for all the environmental ills in the world.
But where to usefully direct that anger? At the radio? (Alas, it’s a one-way device). At your fellow farmers down the pub? (No doubt a sympathetic audience.) At the NFU? (After all, refuting this sort of thing is their job, isn’t it?).
Yes. But they, and other organisations, can’t rebut every soundbite of silliness uttered on the airwaves or written in print. Yet farmers, as a group, can.
Nobody knows more about the issues being discussed – usually in our absence – than we. You hear a blatant lie on the radio? Call in. You read a gross distortion in a newspaper? Write a letter.
You see an unsubstantiated attack on the news? Submit an official complaint. Your MP says something daft? Challenge them at a constituency surgery. Engage.
The agricultural community is a veritable army of its own best advocates.
Imagine if it mobilised in its own defence, rather than merely tutting at the radio.
Cascade of complaints
Producers and editors would come to fear the cascade of complaints.
But there’s more. We need to better engage with the public – after all, the media feeds on uninformed indignation.
If our consumers better understood the issues, media outlets would soon find themselves with a decidedly less receptive audience, potentially triggering a positive-feedback loop.
Open Farm Sunday is a fabulous vehicle for this, as is Face Time a Farmer for the customers of tomorrow.
Write a piece for the local rag or village newsletter talking about your farm. Host local groups and societies.
Social media can be an incredibly powerful tool – both for holding organisations to account and engaging with the public – when used appropriately and respectfully.
Finally, if you think your representative organisations aren’t doing a good job in defending your industry and your interests, don’t moan from the sidelines – get engaged.
NFU, TFA, CLA, NSA, NBA… they all want proactive members who are willing to get involved and move us all forward.
And the more members they have, the bigger voice and influence they subsequently gain.
The farming community is large, passionate and knowledgeable.
We have the ability to turn the tide in this age of misinformation, deceit and lies.
What’s stopping you? Get engaged.