Thursday, February 22, 2024

Straight talk outside the agri echo chamber

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A visiting Scottish Nuffield scholar urges farmers to adopt a collaborative approach and stop slagging off different iterations of food production.
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A visiting Scottish journalist and Nuffield scholar says farmers across the world need to stop denigrating one another and realise that tackling the big issues in food production will require a collaborative approach.

Claire Taylor is an independent journalist who writes for a number of farming and metropolitan publications in the United Kingdom.

Her Nuffield project is called Turning the Tide on the Anti-Farming Agenda, which she hopes will help farmers to step outside the agricultural echo chamber and better communicate with members of the public, media and politicians, to ensure their voices are not only heard but valued.

“Over the years a lot of farmers have said to me there’s a growing anti-farming agenda,” Taylor told the Farmers Weekly In Focus podcast.

“And my own opinion of that was definitely that farming was being scrutinised a lot more in terms of its environmental impacts. But for me that scrutiny isn’t just happening in farming, it’s happening in every sector.”

Through her travels she hopes to uncover how the farming narrative is changing. 

“It is obviously quite early days, and I’ve got quite a bit of travel yet to do, but it’s really opened up a fascinating conversation about whether or not farming is really having open dialogues, open communications. 

“Farming is very much focused on its own doorstep. Most countries think they’re the best producers, they’ve got the best standards, everything’s focused on their own issues. 

“But the scale of change that’s required globally, in terms of the climate and nature and food security – farmers pay a huge part in that. But I don’t think farmers are really realising their part in that yet. And they’re also not realising the collaborative dialogue that is needed.

“It’s not just about improving in their country; it is a much bigger picture than that.”

The UK farming sector, like New Zealand’s, is often preoccupied with arguing with itself about what system is best for the economy and the environment.

“We have a big regenerative farming movement, growing agro ecology, we’ve always had organic and then you’ve got conventional farming systems.

“All these things can be really great farming systems, but they’re all mudslinging at one another and what that does is present a picture to the government and the public. 

“So for me it’s a case of asking farmers to be more considerate and open to accepting differences, but also working together to actually accelerate the pace of change that is needed.”

Taylor said developed countries are privileged to be able to discuss sustainability, as developing nations still grapple with issues of food security, yields and post-harvest losses.

As for the path forward, Taylor said farmers need to seize control of narrative and plot their own path – one that’s in line with social progress.

“We can’t afford to be reactive, we’ve got to be doing things proactively now. 

“It’s about not waiting for policy to be written for us and then moaning about policy, but actually identifying changes you can make now that are not only good for the environment, but good for your bottom line. How do we build that infrastructure and get ahead of government?”

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