Organic • Low input • Agroecology

For the love of farming…

For as long as I can remember we’ve been worried about the lack of young blood coming into farming. All sorts of reasons have been put forward for this – access to land, low profitability, a poor image, low profile with careers officers in schools, and so on. I’m going to put my head above the parapet and suggest another; the way in which farmers present themselves.

By way of illustration, I was on a stand at a food festival next to an organisation who shall remain nameless. Every couple of hours they put on a short show about farming for the general public. If I had known nothing about it previously, these are the messages I would have taken home with me:

  • The single most important thing when you are farming is knowing exactly how many animals you have at any one time and being able to identify them individually by electronic tags in their ears. This is because of some stupid regulation, passed down by Government and the EU. Do they know how many people are in this country at this precise moment? No, of course they don’t.
  • Farmers work in atrocious conditions. They are perpetually cold and wet. They frequently have to go out in blizzards. All year round if they are unfortunate enough to live in Snowdonia.
  • Farmers work for slave wages. Everybody screws them all the time. They live on a pittance. Meanwhile people in nice warm offices get far more money for doing far less, and its not nearly as important as farming and growing.

I exaggerate to make the point but not, I assure you, by much. Is this really how farmers see themselves? As helpless victims of overbearing bureaucracies, an oppressive and aggressive food system and Mother Nature at her most vindictive? And if so, is it any wonder that the youth aren’t flocking in?

I have a different version. I think farmers are amazing. They are providers of some of society’s most basic needs. They grow the food that nourishes us; help to generate the clean energy that keeps us warm and lights our way; it’s within their gift to improve our drinking water and reduce flooding. They are the guardians of land and the environment on which ultimately we all depend, now and in the future. They are ecologists, engineers, nutritionists, animal health care professionals, managers, business people and marketers. All at the same time. How many people can you say that about?

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I’m not suggesting that we omit or misrepresent the tough stuff. There are difficult aspects of the job, but that’s true of all walks of life and people know and accept that. In my experience, the good things outweigh the bad by a country mile. Far more importantly, I think most farmers feel the same. Scarcely have I met one who did not care passionately about the farm, the stock, the soil and the land. When they are not actually farming, they are talking about it. Incessantly.

All of which belies that fact that, secretly, most farmers love what they do and wouldn’t want to change it for anything else. But there seems to be some sort of code of conduct that prevents them from sharing that openly with the rest of society.

Go on. Break the mould; tell the world why it’s great to be a farmer. Our future depends on it.

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