Farmers encouraged to open gates to public this summer

This year's Open Farm Sunday takes place on 9 June
This year's Open Farm Sunday takes place on 9 June

The annual Open Farm Sunday is the 'most effective way' for farmers to provide public access and demonstrate what they do, according to the organisation behind the event.

More than 12,000 people across the industry are involved every year in delivering farming’s annual open day to the public. For the last three years, it has attracted over a quarter of a million visitors each year to farms around the country.

According to a survey from the organisation behind the event, LEAF, 89% of visitors in 2018 said that they now had a more positive attitude to farming.

Caroline Drummond, LEAF’s Chief Executive, says the initiative, taking place this year on 9 June, is the 'single most effective' measure for farmers to provide public access and 'managed' visits.

Emphasising the benefits of opening the UK’s farm gates for visits to the countryside – which ticks the ‘access to all’ box proposed in the new Agriculture Bill - the organisation’s chief says it is essential for winning over public minds for public money.

“There is huge disruption in our politics, in our climate and in the marketplace, and our changing relationship with the EU means any funding needs to be strongly defined and certainly demonstrated as value for money,” she told the Rock and Roll Farmer podcast.

“Farming is such an important industry – it holds the solution to improved health and diets, our gut health and our wellbeing; climate change mitigation, and the services we provide beyond food productivity: water, soil and air quality, and of course nature and biodiversity.

“We are at a pivotal point and we really need to make sure we, as farmers, are demonstrating what we do,” she adds.

Defra Secretary Michael Gove has proposed funding for farmers who open up the countryside to the public, but Ms Drummond says this is not always practical.

“Freedom to roam is okay but a farm is a working environment, so managed access to the countryside is so important. Having a tangible direct way, for one day a year, is a really key aspect of connecting people to the countryside.”

'Ultimate 5-D cinema'

Bringing the public on-farm is also an opportunity to demonstrate the public goods that farmers deliver.

Ms Drummond calls farming the 'ultimate 5-D cinema', saying that “it touches every sense and the more senses you touch the more you embed a memory.”

“That creates an understanding, a better love. The recent survey shows the power of those farmers who are doing such a fantastic job and are connecting the story of farming with people’s everyday lives.

“Often you can forget how it fits into your life as an individual. The more people we get out on a farm before the age of 11, the more you have sown a seed that is about an appreciation and love for nature and for farming.”

Meanwhile, regular Open Farm Sunday hosts, the Bennett family, welcomed David Lumb of BBC South Today to Sandy Lane Farm, Oxfordshire, to report on how it is critical that farmers connect the public with farming.