Ben Barnett: Farming now has an attentive audience for best and worst reasons

The public's attention on food farming has perhaps never been greater, writes Agricultural Correspondent Ben Barnett. Picture by Simon Hulme.
The public's attention on food farming has perhaps never been greater, writes Agricultural Correspondent Ben Barnett. Picture by Simon Hulme.

It is tempting to proclaim that British farming has never had a more attentive audience, for the best and worst of reasons.

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In many ways, the industry is enjoying exposure unlike at any other time. There is now a plethora of countryside-focused TV programmes and the country’s premier agricultural show, the Great Yorkshire Show, is a powerhouse attraction that continues to grow in stature, pulling in more than 130,000 visitors for much of the last decade or so.

Likewise, focus continues to fall on farming by way of a simmering anti-meat agenda and often misplaced animal welfare concerns, typically prompted by the circulation of misinformation on social media – the Wild West of populist debate.

Either way, what is clear is that there are plenty of people who are paying particular attention to what they eat, where their food comes from and how it is produced, and perhaps more so than ever before.

And all this attention will only grow as land use and food production is increasingly scrutinised in respect of our impact on the planet, its role in arresting historic biodiversity declines as well as the part it plays in contributing to or mitigating climate change – with the latter now the topic of our time.

What all of this fuss and focus does present is a powerful opportunity for farmers and the wider agri-food industry. In many ways agriculture ‘has the floor’ and this weekend’s LEAF Open Farm Sunday is a next shot at using this platform wisely.

It is a chance to offer people from outside of farming valuable insights into the high production, welfare and environmental standards that are upheld by the vast majority of farmers in this country. It is a chance for reasoned dialogue away from the poisoned echo chamber of social media.

Though it may be a willing audience who attend those farms taking part tomorrow, many visitors will have been exposed to polarised views on matters of animal welfare, food production and land management. This is their chance to ask questions and it is a perfect opportunity for farmers to explain how they do what they do and why they do it.

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