OFC13: Study reveals farming's 'great' contribution to society

DEFRA Secretary Owen Paterson has spoken of his desire to find new ways to reward farmers for ‘the great public good they deliver’, after a new study demonstrated the industry’s wider contribution to society.

A report, unveiled at the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) today (January 3), highlights how farmers contribute to some of the country’s bigger problems such as mass water storage, flood defence and even social care of those in need.

The study, which was based on a review of published literature, concludes that ‘farming touches people’s lives in perhaps in more ways than any other industry’.

It showed, for example, that UK farmland biodiversity is ‘valued’ at £938 million, with people prepared to pay an extra £2,000 annually to live in a house close to high-nature areas. Access to farmland and nature been proven to improve public health and happiness, the report suggested.

Mr Paterson said: ‪“Farming contributes much more to our society than the crucial role of putting safe, nutritious food on our tables.

“The industry’s worth £95 billion a year to the economy thanks to growing demand abroad for our produce and our expertise. The market rewards that, but it doesn’t reward farming’s role as one of the principal custodians of our rural landscape and wildlife.

‪“Farmers play a crucial role, which is why I’m looking at new ways to reward them for the great public good they deliver.”

OFC 2013 chairman Mike Gooding said: “Farming’s contribution is much, much greater than you might think. The research concludes that UK farmers are making significant contributions to national biodiversity, accessible green space, health and communities.”

Mr Gooding added that the intention of the study was ‘to help policy makers, the agricultural industry and the public and farmers themselves, really think about how we can use what we have better to address society’s growing needs’.

“For therapeutic purposes alone there is irrefutable emerging evidence that there is considerable potential for farming to help address urgent issues of social inclusion and the care of disengaged and vulnerable people - via both structured day visits and, most notably, care farming,” he added.

He said the ‘market’ for farming therapy farming was ‘well below saturation’, providing an opportunity for industry, government and local authorities to develop the concept.

Study highlights

•             100 per cent of the UK population eat food from UK farms, 78 per cent derive all their indigenous food and 63 per cent of all their food from UK farms

•             Approximately £2,532 million is spent on ethical food from UK sources (2.6 per cent of total food spending), representing 160 per cent growth in 10 years.

•             UK farmland biodiversity ‘valued’ at £938.1 million.

•             Up to 19.5 per cent of adults made an ‘amenity visit’ to farmland in the last seven days

•             Home owners willing to pay £113 on house prices for 1 per cent more local enclosed farmland and £166 for uplands, and £2000 per year to live in house with access to high-nature areas.

•             People 1.2-4.0 per cent happier on farmland than in town.

The work was undertaken by Dr Peter Carruthers of Vision 37 and Professor Michael Winter, Professor and director of the Centre for Rural Policy Research at the University of Exeter, and supported by Burges Salmon, RSPB and Volac.

A full copy of the report can be downloaded at www.ofc.org.uk

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