Is the farmer’s job to produce more and more food?

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Matthew Naylor, Farmers Weekly

The idea for writing this particular blog post sprouted from an article on Farmers Weekly by Matthew Naylor available here. The article encourages debate on what the role of the farmer actually is. Naylor writes:

”Decades of discussion about grain mountains, subsidies, biodiversity, diffuse pollution and food flavour have obscured the main function of a farmer in society.

A farmer’s primary responsibility is to manage the factors within his control to continually increase productivity. Very few farmers stick to this with the determination that they should. It is worth us remembering that land tenure, title deeds and tradition can count for nothing if we fail to meet the nation’s needs.”

The flurry of responses below the article have demonstrated how fierce the debate regarding this particular issue actually is. I would like to respond largely in agreement to Naylor. Of course, to a certain extent, maximum achievable yields should be an aim for the farmer but crucially within a sustainable outcome and outlook. The farmer should not be seen, or indeed think of him or herself in one capacity, as a producer of food. Farmers are key for society in terms of the power they have over the management of our local environments. The way of thinking of a particular farmer and his policies towards management of his land can affect not only the landscape but the lives of local people and of course the lives of other inhabitants within farm ecosystems – the creatures that live in the fields, hedgerows, hillsides, moorland, marsh, field ditches, orchards or scrubland.

The farmer therefore does have another key responsibility, which he or she should never shy away from, the sustenance of the land which is farmed. Continuity is of key importance. Farming is about soil sustenance and care, that will ensure the viability and vitality of our soils for future generations. Farmers have much responsibility and must understand that their actions have consequences far and beyond their own farm boundaries. Whether that be in choosing to grow a particular crop, to apply a particular herbicide or pesticide, spread muck in a particular area, destroy or plant a hedgerow, build a reservoir or convert redundant farm buildings. Decisions on all these aspects will have wider consequences whether those are ecological, such as a swallow no longer being able to return to nest in an old barn because it has been converted, economical, in terms of decisions affecting food prices or social in terms of affecting public access routes.

The farmer has a responsibility to feed a growing population. However there are other responsibilities: to genuinely care for the environment and encourage biodiversity; to enhance soil fertility and aid soil ecosystems; to produce healthy and nutritious food for consumers; to ensure high animal welfare; to educate the public and allow for a degree of public access; to help sustain rural practice and communities.

Many responsibilities; all important.

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