Farm cash crisis adds extra importance to annual open days

Visitors to Open Farm Sunday events will gain valuable insights into how food is produced on local farms.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Visitors to Open Farm Sunday events will gain valuable insights into how food is produced on local farms. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
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An annual event where farmers across the country throw open their farm gates to the public takes on even greater importance this year because of the financial crisis affecting the industry, its lead organiser said.

Hit by low produce prices, delayed subsidy payments and recent flooding damage, farmers have an extra motivation for reaching out to a public who are sympathetic of agriculture’s financial plight, said Annabel Shackleton, manager of Open Farm Sunday.

“People are aware of the issues farmers are facing and the plight so many have been through and I think they are keen to support and congratulate farmers for the fantastic work they are doing,” Ms Shackleton said.

“We all hear about the problems dairy farmers have and the impact of flooding on the news but it’s really important for people to be able to go out onto the farm and talk to farmers themselves to see what’s involved - and I think the current situation makes it all the more important.”

She said the June 5 event, now in its 11th year, can play a big part in fostering understanding between farmers and their local communities.

“Where some farms are struggling they may be looking at diversification which can involve the need to get planning permission and getting the local community on side, and that’s something a lot of farmers use Open Farm Sunday for - to invite the community onto their farm and explaining this is what they are currently doing, it’s not giving them sufficient income, and that these are their plans and this is why they are doing it.”

Extra weight is being given to an Open Farm Sunday event near York this year, where the local show committee is promoting and lending resources to a local dairy farm’s open day - and is following this up by inviting the farmer to take some of his cows to meet the public at Tockwith Show on August 7.

Sam Blacker, co-chairman of Tockwith Show, said: “Agriculture is part of our countryside and if we don’t look after our farmers, the countryside will be lost.”

The farmer, Roger Hildreth, is expecting hundreds of visitors to Curlew Fields Farm in Hessay between 11am and 3.30pm on June 5 where local beef, pig and arable farmers will be joining him to showcase how food is produced.

Mr Hildreth said: “It would be great if every visitor that comes learns just one extra little thing about farming.

“We are all struggling at the moment. The price of milk is well below the cost of production and we have cut our costs.

“The more people who come, then all the merrier the atmosphere will be.”

Details of all local Open Farm Sunday events can be found on the Open Farm Sunday website.

CELEBRATION OF FARMING

Twenty-one farms in Yorkshire have so far signed up to Open Farm Sunday - and there is still time to sign up and hold an event, organisers said.

Co-ordinated by LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming), the annual open days enjoyed a record-breaking tenth year in 2015, attracting 389 farms across the country to take part.

Ms Shackleton said: “It’s a celebration of British farming and finding out what local farms do. Farming can be a lonely existence but farmers love having the chance to invite people onto their farms.”