A NEW era of direct interaction between farmers and the public appears to be paying off, according to the results of two new studies.
With dairy farmers among those facing acute financial pressures, more than half of British shoppers - 51 per cent - said they would be prepared to pay more for their milk than the current low price points set by the major retailers in a poll carried out by Mintel. Milk costs as little as 89p for four litres despite most farmers being paid below the cost of production.
At the same time, separate survey results suggest public sentiment towards farmers has increased over the course of the last 12 months and beyond. Some 68 per cent of people surveyed by OnePoll in England and Wales said they had a positive view of farming, up by eight per cent on 2012. The findings come despite ongoing tensions between wildlife activists and rural communities.
Some campaigners remain opposed to both badger culling as a means of tackling the spread of bovine tuberculosis and any reappeal of the 2004 Hunting Act.
Despite those hot topics, the latest findings seem to suggest that there is a growing understanding of, and appreciation for, the work farmers do - many of whom are interacting with the public like never before.
Figures revealed by LEAF, organisers of Open Farm Sunday which was held for a tenth year a fortnight ago, show more visitors than ever before at this year’s event. Nearly 400 farms, including 24 in Yorkshire, were visited by an estimated 250,000-plus people - exceeding last year’s record-breaking attendance by more than 15 per cent.
In this region, dairy operation Our Cow Molly in Sheffield attracted the biggest numbers with more than 2,000 guests on the day.
Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers’ Union, said he believed the growing positive sentiment was down in part to farmers and growers being more open and championing what they do.
“I am seeing more and more how farmers are speaking directly to the public. Whether that’s capitalising on social media to share with them compelling reasons to back British farming and buy British food or the recent successes seen during Open Farm Sunday where farmers threw open their farm gates to speak directly to the public.
“At the NFU we have used our Back British Farming campaign to focus on farming’s contribution; to the economy, to the countryside and as expert food producers and we have capitalised on the public’s desire to know more about where their food comes from.
“We must continue using all of the tools we have to tell our story and state the case for British food and farming. This survey is a clear indicator of public support. Now - at a time when farm gate prices are low - retailers and government must also continue showing their support and visibly back British farming.”
Annabel Shackleton, LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday manager, said: “Farmers want to reach out to their customers and share their passion for what they do as food producers and managers of the countryside.
“Over the past years LEAF has developed communications training programmes and innovative resources to help farmers speak out and engage with the public. There is a real dive amongst UK farmers to reach out to their customers and we can only see this trend increasing over the coming years.”
Richard Pearson, regional director of the NFU, added: “I think events such as the Tour de France and Tour de Yorkshire have really encouraged people to get out more and enjoy the countryside. This obviously puts farming centre stage and I believe as a result people are more aware of what the industry is delivering locally.”