Conveying a positive message about farming

FEELINGS were riding high among farmers in the audience when the controversial subject of connecting with the public was discussed at the 18th Cheshire Farming Conference.

Opening speaker, Cheshire’s Young Business Person of the Year Diana Bendall, director of Deva Vets, Alford, said farmers have a lot to gain from conveying a positive message about farming.

“We need to tell the public that food is not from a supermarket, it is produced on a farm,” she told the conference at Delamere near Northwich.

“We need to know what people think about farming and correct their misconceptions.

“Animal welfare is a huge issue. Sweeping generalisations about how food is produced are very dangerous.

“Take black and white bull calves – most of the public think they are shot at birth or exported, they don’t understand why.

“They don’t know that this happens because we don’t eat enough veal in this country. We have to educate the public that there is an economic pressure behind these actions,” she told the event which was organised by Berrys, NatWest and Murray Smith Chartered Accountants.

“Listening to what their customers want is one thing, but it’s also possible to tell customers what they want. How many people realised that they wanted an Ipod until they were told so through clever marketing?

“A prime example of good marketing is an Innocent Smoothie This is mashed up fruit in a bottle, but the Innocent brand also gives a message, telling people what they want to hear.

“Ethics, aesthetics and shopping – like the smoothie, farm produce provide all these – we just need to get that message across.”

Richard Aspinall, director of agriculture with Royal Bank of Scotland Group and NatWest said demand for food is increasing globally and the pressure is on for farmers to increase production while delivering farm assurance and food safety.

“This means there is a strong future for agriculture within the UK, but the public needs to understand about agriculture and accept the major technological advances needed to deliver this food to their table, such as genetic modification.”

It was down to the whole industry to communicate with the public and connect the producer to the consumer. “Successful communication is not about persuading a few people to change a lot – it is about stimulating everyone to change a little,” he added.

But from the audience, Northwich arable and sheep farmer Chris Leech was having none of it. “Why should I have to do that job? My customers are the potato merchants and butchers, so it’s my job to communicate with them. You can’t expect a small farmer to be able to do promotion – we are whistling in the wind,” he said.

Stuart Yarwood, a dairy farmer from Sandbach, said most farmers in the room were too old or too busy to take on that communication role. “There’s so few young people coming on to farms we should spend time training young people to communicate and buoy up the industry and get the message into the cities.”

Other farmers in the room were already connecting with the customer and doing the job well. Andy Morrison, of Alderley Edge, recently had a major promotion at his farm shop and pulled 2,000 people in over two days, giving him a real sense of community spirit.

And Frodsham farmers Graham and Liz Warburton, who have started opening their farm for educational visits, have entertained 35 schools since April. “We just show them what we are doing on that particular day, be it boxing seed potatoes or working with the calves, and the kids love it.”

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