Anna Jones, a former producer on the BBC’s Countryfile, who now runs an organisation helping farmers influence the way they are portrayed by the media, said a shift in public attitudes would follow the withdrawal from the EU, and that an industry which had traditionally “dug in its heels” on the question of subsidies would now see increased scrutiny.
“Farmers are going to have to be ready to say how much subsidy they get,” Ms Jones told members of the Frank Parkinson Agricultural Trust, at the Great Yorkshire Show.
“There is going to be far more pressure for openness, and a new preoccupation with where public money goes,” she said.
Her organisation, Just Farmers, which has received a £20,000 bursary from the Trust, runs workshops for farm owners and workers on how to represent themselves to the non-agricultural media – a practice, she said, at which protest groups were often more adept than the agriculture industry itself.
Asked which issues were likely to dominate the news agenda in the months ahead, she said farmers would have to be ready to engage in “broad brush discussions” with the public and media on nitrates and animal welfare, as well as subsidies.
“Sometimes, farmers can act like rabbits caught in the headlights when they face questions, and this is about giving them some of the skills that other groups have gained, so that at least they can put themselves across in an open, eloquent and passionate way,” said Ms Jones, who comes from a farming family on the Welsh borders.
She said that despite a perception of misrepresentation by the media within some sections of the farming community, the reality was more complex.
“I do think sometimes farmers can be a little defensive about how they’re portrayed,” she said.
“Sometimes, the imbalance comes from certain groups out there who are incredibly well versed in how the media works. They know how to play the game – they know what makes a headline and how to pitch their stories, and farmers are just way behind the curve with that stuff.
“They are made to feel as if they are public enemy number one, that they are being criminalised in some way.”
Coverage of the vegan debate in the mainstream media and on social websites had contributed to a perceived bias, she added.
“A lot of it was very simplistic. It would have been easy for anyone to think that the whole country was going to turn vegan overnight.
“The reality is that vegans need farmers just as much as anyone else – yet that got lost in the debate.
“No person on this planet, unless you’re a hunter gatherer, can live without farmers.”
The Frank Parkinson Trust, named after the early 20th century engineer, supports projects that improve the welfare of British agriculture and have the potential to become industry leaders.
Its chairman, Chris Bourchier, said: “We are entering a period of radical change and need to increase this momentum if we are to compete successfully in a global industry.”