‘Back British farming’, ‘Buy British’, ‘Support our farmers’. These are the slogans relentlessly bellowed by the farming community. Frankly, they are boring and uninspiring; alliterative uppercuts which sound okay, but will never land a knockout blow.
The message is this is what farmers would like the public to do. As for how they are to do it, presumably they are supposed to go out of their way to purchase Red Tractor products in the face of much cheaper alternatives. What nobody is explaining is why this matters. It could make all the difference. The public are not inspired by these catchphrases because they are not told why they should care. ‘Back British farming’ sounds at best like an appeal for charity and at worst like a guilt trip.
It has a similar ring to ‘save Syrian orphans’. And, unsurprisingly, many people will think Syrian orphans deserve their spare cash more than landowning farmers. The pattern repeats at every level: national; regional; local. Farmers are adept at talking about what they do (‘I have 400-head of sheep, 250 acres and a wind turbine’), but we so rarely hear about why they do it. What if the public heard the following statements? ‘I want to produce the best tasting lamb money can buy, like my father and grandfather before me’. ‘I consider myself a trustee of this land and what drives me to improve is the hope I will leave the soil in my corner of England in a better state then when I took it over’. ‘My diversifications now bring in more than 50 per cent of revenue and my children are all employed on-farm, so their futures are secured’.
We want to hear what motivates farmers, because it explains why we should all wholeheartedly back British farming. We want to feel the heartache of losing stock, the angst of an ever-progressing tide of black-grass, the frustration of 186 failed batches before producing the perfect artisan farm product.
These are tales which cannot be told in a catchphrase or even in 140 characters on the farming echo-chamber of Twitter. These stories deserve more than a soundbite. This was my motivation for starting a podcast about rural life: I want people to appreciate what it is really all about. When I interviewed new NFU vice-president Stuart Roberts, I did not edit a five-minute conversation down to a 15-second soundbite to fit a news slot.
I travelled to his farm and he welcomed me into his home. I pressed record and emerged an hour-and-a-half later, understanding the man, not just the message. The recording tells the why, not just the what. Whether the story is about farmers, their families, artisan foodies, nature writers, rural entrepreneurs or gay gypsy night lambers (see episode two of This Rural Life), the people behind this industry are magnificent and they deserve to be properly heard. Be real, vulnerable and transparent, rather than defensive, curt and skeptical. Public support will surely follow.