The farmer on the floor : Conference bloggers : Soil Association

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The farmer on the floor

Pat Thomas - 02 March 2012

Pat ThomasA speaker from the audience has just stood up and made an important point about farmers.

She questioned organic and whether it is intrinsically healthier. An uncomfortable issue for many in the room, myself included, who believe it is. But more than that she said, “I am not an organic farmer, but I am proud of what I do”.

Her pride in her work, echoes that of many farmers organic and conventional, throughout the UK. Farming has never been a charming rural profession. Our farmers work hard to put food on our tables. It should be a cause for real shame amongst all of us that we don’t support them better, that we have a system that demands so much of them and pays them so often less than the value of their produce.

We all do better, feel more motivated and feel more confident about our contributions to the world when we feel valued. Farmers are on the receiving end of a string of constant criticism: that they don’t produce enough, that they aren’t efficient, that they live off government subsidies.

Our farmers work inside the system which we have created. Their profits are being squeezed from the top by supermarkets and from the bottom by suppliers. Reform of the food system must include a better deal for farmers that allows them to innovate in sustainable ways and to feel their true value.

I can’t agree with her views on organic, but my heart goes out to the farmer on the floor. We need to take the conversation out of the conference hall and into the fields where schemes like farmer to farmer mentoring may help spread essential support as well as the message of sustainable innovation.

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John Byng
06 March 2012 17:44

The proud conventional farmer may well have reason to be proud. Perhaps she cares for the environment and produces food of quality. But aided by good organic techniques she could have reason for even greater pride without nagging doubts about the impacts of artifical fertilisers and pesticides. The evidence that organic food is intrinsically healthier is difficult to collect because organic consumers tend to eat different varieties and chose healthier foods generally. But the beneficial impact on the environment is clear and worthwile of itself. Something to be very proud of.

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