Archive for April, 2010

Is this going in the magazine?

Without exception, conversations with young farmers at this weekend’s AGM in Torquay ran like this:

Tipsy young farmer: Are you that woman from Farmers Weekly?
Caroline: Yes.
TYF: Can I have your Farmers Weekly t-shirt?
C: No.
TYF: Will you take my photo then?
C: Yes.
TYF: Will it go in the magazine?
C: It’ll definitely go on the website…
TYF: Yeah, but will it go in the magazine?
C: Possibly, but I promise it’ll be online in a bit.
TYF: Whatever, I want to be in the magazine.

Actually, I lie when I say that’s how conversations went without exception. That last line in the exchange can also  be interchanged with: “I don’t go online”; “I don’t have a computer”; “We don’t have the internet” and, most over-dramatically: “If you don’t put me in the magazine I’m going to cancel my subscription”.

While the last example was slurred at me by a young gentleman who was wearing a fake turkey on his head, topped-off with a Barbie-pink Stetson, it’d be wrong to dismiss the sentiment.

There’s an assumption out there that young people are completely au fait with the interweb, that they use it every day, glean all of their information from it and that magazines and other dead tree press are a waste of time for the next generation of readers.

Perhaps this is the case for other markets and agriculture is an anomaly, but every time I speak to young farmers I’ve been left with the feeling that it’d be wrong to think we can write-off the print version of FW when we consider readers of the future.

The lack of high-speed rural broadband obviously plays a part in some not accessing news online, but even those that said they used the FW website attached more worth to featuring in the magazine than on the web.

Maybe it’s the history of the FW brand that makes the magazine seem more important (lots of them mentioned their dads, grandads, uncles got the magazine and had done every week for decades), or having a physical news source that appeals more to them. After all, I’ve been told before that portability plays a big part in what people read.

Hopefully I’ll find out during my Nuffield travels, but it’ll be interesting to find out if young farmers in other countries think this way about printed press, or whether it’s unique to the UK.

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*Childish snigger*

Just been sent a press release from the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers. I assume an ‘e’ is missing from somewhere in this sentence:

rabdf

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Serious journalism

There are times when I do my best to convey an image of being a serious, hard-hitting journalist. Last night, dressed as a leopard whilst being hugged by an aligator, I realised this weekend can’t be classed one of those times.

Safari night

I’m currently in Torquay, home of Devon cream teas, palm trees, Basil Fawlty and – for this weekend – about 4000 young farmers from around the country for the 2010 YFC agm.

Last night was safari night, hence the dodgy outfits. Some of my FW chums embraced the spirit of the night more than I did though…

Is the Lion

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Liar, liar, non-organic pants on fire

Since I started working in agricultural media, I’ve never been particularly impressed with the Soil Association’s often simplistic arguments that organic farming is superior to conventional food production.

I had wondered whether the organisation had grown up a bit when, at its annual conference in February, policy director Peter Melchett finally admitted that both systems had benefits and that they could both learn from each other.

It seems the Association’s sophisticated, mature line of debate was short-lived though, as the title of its latest report, which dispels UN claims the world needs to double food production by 2050, shows:

“Telling porkies: The big fat lie about doubling food production.”

It may just be me, but that line conjures the mental image of Lord Melchie waggling his hands aside his his head, doing a little jig around his organic allotment as he gleefully calls the NFU, DEFRA and the UN big fat liars.

What makes me more irritated by the line though, is that despite the silly name-calling,  I actually agree with the sentiments of the report.

There’s no scientific evidence that says we need to double production – in fact the EFRA committee admitted last year that it’s ‘more of a guideline’ rather than a definite figure we need to aim for.

I’m not saying increasing food production and securing domestic supplies isn’t something we need to do, but with 40% of food being wasted from when it leaves the farm and reaches consumers’ homes, tackling waste seems a more sensible first step.

If I remember rightly (I’m sure someone will correct me if not), South America’s growing agricultural output alone is bolstering global food supplies by 4% a year – meaning in 10 years time we’ll have hit the 40% growth mark.

All of this will be done with less inputs (sorry Melchie, that’s what GMs do for you) and with min-til systems – much greener than peddling the UK’s soils like mad and pumping them full of expensive, oil-based fertilisers.

Running the risk of making myself unpopular here, to me food security seems to be an issue of distribution, rather than one of production.

I’m starting to wonder whether I’m bonkers for writing this in public. Please try not to be too rude and sweary if you want to leave a comment at the bottom to shout at me – my mum reads this…

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How many mangos make a crisis?

As the ash cloud drama continues with the news our favourite worm charmer, Howard Orange, and her lovely husband Farmer Phil are stuck on their hollybobs in Madeira, the panicky shoppers of the UK have begun to worry supermarket shelves are running bare.

According to reports, some parts of Europe get 90% of their fruit, veg and flowers delivered to them by air. And with the UK’s skies being a no-fly zone for another day, this has led to fears food will be in short supply because of a lack of imports.

The Country Land and Business Association sent a rather brilliant press release this afternoon though which no doubt made the worrying shoppers of the world realise they had to get a grip.

While it’s clear some perishable food isn’t getting into the UK, it said, missing out on one Alphonso mango doesn’t make a crisis.

While the line amused me, the CLA did go on to make a good point about the fragility of food supplies and the food distribution network.

Domestic figures actually reckon the UK gets just 1.5% of its fruit and veg via air freight. But the potential disruption the Icelandic volcano has caused to our food system will undoubtedly add strength to calls to increase UK production and address food security issues.

This of course works in favour of UK farmers. And  if our mango supplies run out, shoppers will be able to turn to British-grown fruit to satisfy their needs. It’s a shame Kenyan farmers won’t be quite so lucky.

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Thank you, Icelandic Volcano

The sun’s out so I’m sitting on my balcony to write this. I’ve resisted the ‘typing in a bikini’ method of work apparently favoured by a certain Farmplan worker – my balcony overlooks a communal garden, I don’t want to scare the kids.

It seems the nice weather’s brought everyone out this weekend. Gob of the Wash called me from his cultivator yesterday, I went on a touristy trek around London, and every other person in the capital seemed to take to the Serpentine in a boat.

Serpentine

It was so warm I spent a pleasant couple of hours lying under a tree in Hyde Park, reading some Graham Greene and listening to a bloke with a dodgy Australian accent (I mean Josh Pyke, obviously).

And because of the lack of planes I think it was the quietest, most relaxing day I’ve ever had in London. Maybe giant ash clouds aren’t so bad, after all.

Springtime in London

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Musical interlude

Thought I’d have an election break just to mention a fairly profitable farm diversification.

The full Glastonbury line-up was announced yesterday, so Mr Business, Mr Arable and Miss Machinery and I have been discussing our plans for our Farmers Weekly festival trip in June.

Despite clocking up a few good years at FW between us, this will be the first time we’ve ever been to Michael Eavis’ dairy farm – the site of the festival – so we’re very excited. Of course, we’ve obviously bought tickets to we can look at grassland management and succesful farm diversification, but it’d be rude not to check out the music, wouldn’t it?

I think my weekend will be spent mostly admiring the grazing potential around the John Peel stage, where coincidentally Mumford and Sons, Delphic, Foals, Ash and Ellie Goulding (my latest favourite album – dunno what’s going on with my music tastes at the moment) will be playing.

I might be tempted away from there to catch the XX, Laura Marling and Empire of the Sun too. And sadly I can never pass up the chance to see Bono either.

I can’t believe I’ve just admitted U2 love in public. These last few posts have really revealed how uncool I am, haven’t they…

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Fairly liberal

For those of you waiting with baited breath for the Lib Dem green manifesto word cloud (sorry Rob, you have my permission to have a nap rather than read this), here it is:

Lib Dem manifestoBit different to the others, innit? Agriculture-friendly words ‘fair’, ‘support’, ‘help’ and ‘future’ all dominate, while ‘farmers’ is the second most-featured word. If I was living in a rural constituency (and if you could rely on parties to deliver on their manifestos), I think the Boy Cleggy would be getting my vote.

It’s going to be interesting to see how much (if any) time food and environmental issues are given in tonight’s debate between Nick, Dave and Gordy, and to see if the themes pulled from these clouds are reflected in what they all say.

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How to meet farming’s needs

My inner geek has been having a field day. I warn you in advance of reading this post that any ideas you might’ve had about me having a shred of coolness are woefully off the mark.

Today most of the parties have published their manifestos ahead of the general election on May 6. Everyone at Farmers Weekly Towers has been looking at me in a slightly concerned way as I’ve sat happily going through them all to write about the rural policies.

Because I like you for taking the time to read this, I won’t bore you to death by talking through the policies here. But I will show you these word clouds I made using the green policy part of the manifestos and a nifty thing called Wordle (it’s a website that aggregates words and shows how often they are used). Clockwise from top left are clouds made from Labour, the Conservatives, UKIP and Plaid Cymru manifestos:

Manifesto

I thought it was pretty interesting that ‘energy’ features most for the top two parties, while ‘agriculture’ doesn’t even factor. Draw from that what you will. ‘Environment’, ‘protect’ and ‘security’ are all prominent in the Tory manifesto, but there’s no mention of ‘Britain’ or ‘community’, which Labour really played on.

UKIP went for  ‘support’ in a big way, but not in the context you might think – apparently if they get in they’re going to make subsidies unecessary by convincing people to buy more British food, thus raising food prices and making farming profitable. I notice ‘wind’ and ‘warming’ feature there too – is it too easy to say something about them being full of hot air?.

What interested me most though was Plaid Cymru’s word cloud. Not only do ‘Wales’, ‘Welsh’ and ‘Cymru’ get some of the biggest mentions, but the word ‘need’ is pretty prominent. I got the same ‘needy’ sense from reading the manifesto too – it was pretty good at being whiney but didn’t really offer any solutions.

Anyway, the Lib Dems publish their manifesto in the morning so we’ll see how airy fairy (or not) they can be. My not-so-inner geek can’t wait.

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Everyone on the bus in five minutes… (CSC reprise)

If there’s something I didn’t expect to come back from Ireland with, it was a farmer’s tan and an appreciation of Guinness. In just three days on our mini Nuffield reunion we managed to fit in….

A tour of Dublin (complete with obligatory trip to the city’s famous brewery)

Dublin
A monster-filled loch

loch

Trips to see the boy band (check out the freakishly neat workshop – any guesses who that belongs to?)

Boyband's farms

As well as some tips on interior design, an introduction to vacuuming Irish-style, some serious trabompolining, vertigo, horse racing, kitchens that sent Princess and I green with envy, duck feeding, Jaffa Cakes, Argentinian farming, blazing sunshine  – and last but not least – some welcome additions to the clique.

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