Opinion: We must cultivate trust in farming

Who do you trust? Your best friend? Sure. Your partner? Of course. Your dog? Implicitly.

Okay, good. Now, how about your grain trader? Erm… Your agronomist? Well…. Your secretary of state for the environment? Splutter…. Do I sense prevarication?

Society is built on trust. What’s the £5 note in your pocket actually worth? Nothing. The gold standard is long gone.

The Bank of England’s “Promise to Pay” represents our joint fundamental belief in the smooth operation of monetary policy and price stability; that when we hand over our paper note, we will receive goods in return.

The financial crisis pushed this trust to breaking point, and the past decade has seen increasing erosion of this vital societal cement.

See also: Joe Stanley on a post-Brexit farming policy

Joe StanleyJoe Stanley is an arable and beef farmer on a third-generation Leicestershire family farm

In agriculture too, trust is eroding. How many tenants fear that their landlords are now merely in the game of chasing the highest rents, regardless of personal relationships or quality of stewardship?

How many arable farmers have chronic suspicions over the veracity of grain intakes? How many of us believe the government has the best interests of our industry at heart?

But trust cuts both ways. There are contractors who have no intention of keeping the land in their care in good heart.

I’ve had farmers inexplicably brag to me about the tricks they pull on loads of grain. Some see animal movement restrictions as a challenge to be circumvented.

But trust must be at the core of everything we do as professionals. It’s the farmer’s responsibility to apply nutrients as required to rented soils; to provide the mill with the best quality grain they can; and to abide by the rules to help combat the spread of disease.

If we do not, we have scant authority to demand better treatment or better policy in return.

Most of all, the public must have complete faith in the UK’s farmers to provide them with safe, traceable and honestly produced food. It is, after all, a deeply intimate commodity.

As an industry we should be able to proudly defend all of our practices and to be completely transparent in how we produce our food.

The most emotive issues surrounding food production frequently cited by the media and public are often not even applicable to this country, or are based on misconceptions or downright misinformation – what lies were politely termed as, before we ever heard of “fake news”.

Such untruths must be aggressively countered to avoid any corrosive degradation of public trust in UK agriculture.

Quality must prevail

In the coming years, accreditation schemes such as Red Tractor will become increasingly important. British Farming PLC must use its unique selling points – safety, security and quality – to maintain and grow its share of the market.

We will never triumph in a race to the bottom with foreign imports, nor should we want to. Traceability and transparency will be key.

There should be no place for those who flaunt the rules – rules that, Brexit or no Brexit, will become no less stringent for domestic producers.

We are pushing at an open door: the horsemeat scandal; tainted Brazilian meat; contaminated Dutch eggs; unsavoury foreign production methods – the British consumer can do better, and we can provide it.

But yes, trust cuts both ways. We’ll provide the food, but we need an equitable system, economically viable government policies, landlords who appreciate good tenants, milk processors that stand by their contracts, a supply chain that is fair, honest and transparent.

Finally, we need a public which doesn’t just claim it will buy British, but follows through. It’s our job to convince them.

See more