Changing Perceptions

What a sea change we have seen over recent years in the consuming public’s perception of agriculture. True, the same weary suspects still trot out their mantras about intensive farming ruining the environment, hedgerows ripped out and farmland bird populations reaching dangerous levels, but the reality, I believe, is that many people now have a much greater appreciation of agriculture’s role in producing safe, wholesome food, and that they care about the land that they are custodians of.

The horse meat scandal, the effects of atrocious weather with repercussions affecting two harvests, the plight of some farmers in less favoured areas, and the real hardship of farmers coping with bovine TB, have been regular features in the media.  More people have taken holidays in the UK this year and have discovered how truly beautiful our countryside is.  Here in Yorkshire where I farm, we are spoilt for choice with the unique landscape of the Dales, the purple majesty of the North York Moors, and the rolling splendour of the fertile Wolds.  The barren wastes and the ‘silent spring’ don’t seem to exist as the London based left-wing intelligentsia would have us believe.

LEAF has played a major part in this, with its role in improving communications and engaging local communities. Over a million people have visited farms during Open Farm Sunday since it started seven years ago.  Others visit LEAF Demonstration Farms throughout the year. The NFU has also played a huge role in calmly putting farming’s case in the face of scares and media hysteria.

608The recent “Harvest” series of three programmes on prime time BBC2 shows how far we have come. Andrew Burgess, a LEAF trustee and LEAF Marque producer demonstrated in a most genuine way his passion for growing a range of wholesome vegetables to the highest standard, on a large scale to high environmental standards.  What was noticeable was that the presenters were so enthusiastic about this modern, technology driven harvest, and there was no carping about industrial farming and reliance on poisonous pesticides and fertilisers. Andrew, and his fellow farmers on subsequent nights, have made us a lot of friends out there.

stephen-fellStephen Fell is LEAF’s Chairman and Managing Director of the family farming business HR Fell and Sons Ltd, running a flock of 1000 sheep and growing root crops at Thorganby in the Vale of York. He is also Managing Director of Lindum Turf, a business growing and marketing a range of turf and specialist grass and wildflower products.


3 responses to “Changing Perceptions

  1. Dear Stephen,

    I do think its a shame that you celebrate a positive response to some very positive messages about food and farming so tribally – especially as your comments don’t reflect what LEAF is actually doing. There are real problems facing farming now and in the future and .implying that the decline in farmland birds is some sort of lefty conspiracy does you and LEAF no favours.

    You could hardly do a better job illuminating some of the serious issues we face than look at the LEAF portfolio: we really do need to give farmers more flexibility in their land use to tackle some of the challenges around water, with the public support to deliver the ecosystem services which land managers seem to be expected to deliver for free at the moment. Your thinking on GM is the sort of balanced, sensible approach a polarised argument so badly needs, whilst having been involved in the development of precision pesticide application technologies I’d strongly support your championing of precision farming.

    But, in facing up to the farming of the future, you really do need to realise that the sort of well-informed people in the middle ground will be alienated by fiercely sectoral approaches that attempt to dismiss very real problems of the past and the present.

  2. Whilst agreeing that the recent “Harvest” series of programmes on BBC2 was very good, it was also hugely biased towards an extreme. That extreme was people who can afford combines costing £250,000, horticultural operations investing over £2 million in poly tunnels to cover cherry trees etc. That’s not to decry any of their excellent businesses, or in some socialist way sound jealous. However, it ignored large proportion of farmers operating “ordinary” businesses, often in the less hospitable regions of the country.

    One factor not mentioned at all, disappointingly, was the proportion of the crop that all the farmers grew, which would be actually eaten. In praising these guys for doing more to increase food production we have a nasty habit of ignoring the much greater potential we have to solve the need to improve food availability by cutting out waste of what we already produce, plus also the degree to which we individually/collectively over consume. Sometimes I think farmers and scientists get fixed in the glare of the headlights operated by people offering unrealistic potential returns.

  3. Geordie Burnett Stuart

    But the old left intelligentsia – urban and unhappy to leave behind a comfortable prejudice – are very much the people who still decry modern farming . I agree with Stephen . Why hide from a necessary discussion ?
    As an example that fine writer Robert Macfarlane ( based in Cambridge ) still trots out the old out of date nonsense about prairies and hedges being ripped out . So there you have it .

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