August 22, 2008

Farmers ‘Beginning to Win Public Sympathy’

By Louise Vennells

Farmers have won sympathy and respect for their "vital" role in feeding the world, according to a survey which indicates that attitudes towards the industry are changing.

After a decade of rural decline in which farmers felt widely disregarded, many now appreciate their role as the guardians of the British landscape.

The survey, conducted by Country Life magazine, spoke to 1,100 people across the UK, and nearly three-quarters concluded that they were crucial to food production in the UK.

A further 41 per cent acknowledged that they protect the landscape, and many said they were overworked and under- paid - possibly a factor in few wanting to work on a farm.

The biggest threats facing the countryside were "over-zealous regulation" and "the Labour Party", the survey found. Supermarkets were viewed in a negative light by a majority of the sample, who said they have too much power.

Ian Johnson, South West spokesman for the National Farmers' Union, said the change in public perception meant farmers were "feeling much better about themselves".

He said the organisation had worked to promote a more positive view of the industry, which he said affects the way people respond.

He said: "The NFU's Farming Matters campaign focused on what our members contribute, rather than moaning and whingeing. That has a positive effect on the audience."

He said TV and radio programmes like Jimmy Doherty's Farming Heroes and The Archers also helped to get messages on issues such as TB to a wider public.

Mr Johnson said there was a growing awareness of the world food situation, with six million more mouths to feed each month across the globe, and dwindling agricultural space.

He said another major change had come from politicians, who were realising that domestic food production was crucial.

He said: "In the past, the people who run the country have been dismissive of farmers, so it's understandable that the public take a similar view. But at this year's AGM, we had the Prime Minister saying many times in his speech that food security is a key issue."

John Daw, who farms near Crediton, Mid-Devon, believes perception changed following the foot and mouth crisis. "People are increasingly realising where their food comes from," he said. "They are seeing that if they spend money in their own locality, it comes full circle."

He said support was particularly strong in the South West, because of the strong farming community.

Mark Hedges, editor of Country Life, says: "It would seem that more than a decade of rural disaster - BSE, the hunting ban, bird flu, bovine TB, and foot and mouth - has earned farmers not only sympathy, but respect.

"With the UK being increasingly unable to rely on fossil fuels and with the population due to hit the nine billion mark by the mid- century, farming is becoming more important and farmers should finally benefit."

(c) 2008 Western Morning News, The Plymouth (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.