People are more engaged, passionate and informed about farming practices and environmental issues than ever, according to farmers who hosted LEAF Open Farm Sunday 2019 (LOFS) events.
National organisers Linking Environment And Farming (LEAF) have reported that over 230,000 people visited a working farm in England, Wales or Scotland on Sunday 9th June as part of farming’s annual open day. The feedback from both farmers and visitors indicates a growing interest in British agriculture, food production, and in particular sustainable farming practices for land management, soil and water health as well as the role of technology.
Commenting on 2019’s event, LOFS manager, Annabel Shackleton, said: “The overwhelmingly positive response from both farmers and visitors has again illustrated the power of linking the public with farming. We are so proud of the positive impact of these events and we shouldn’t underestimate the deeply rewarding experience that they offer visitors. As well as the important opportunity for open dialogue between farmers and the public, many visitors commented on how much they appreciated being welcomed onto farm and the space and freedom to enjoy the countryside in safety.
“Our farmers have been blown away by the calibre and quantity of questions from visitors about environmental practices. Its inspiring to see so many taking an active interest in how their food is produced and choosing to connect with farmers.
“We thank all the farmers and their many helpers for getting involved and proudly representing our industry. We also want to thank all our sponsors for their continued support. The solidarity and proactive approach of everyone involved this weekend and over the years has had such a positive impact for the whole industry.”
Events this weekend took place from the Channel Islands to Shetland, ranging from informal farm walks to self-guided tours, tractor-and-trailer rides and large-scale educational events with organised activities and local stallholders. Initial statistics suggest that more visitors came from urban locations than in previous years and that there was an increase in the number of people who had never been on a farm before.
Of the 361 events, there was a significant increase in the proportion of smaller events held for up to 50 people, while 33% more farms opened in Yorkshire and 22% more in Scotland. More than 25% of farmers involved were hosting for the first time – in Scotland, this was 50% and in Wales, 38% - and hundreds of volunteers across the industry supported the events, including agronomists, vets and retailers.
LOFS’ ticketing service, a free online booking service launched in 2018 to allow host farmers to manage numbers, was used by 47 farms this year in comparison to nine last year and was a popular service for those who used it.
Caroline Drummond, LEAF chief executive said: “With farming and food supply in the news so much over the last 12 months visitors were more keen than ever this year to know more about how we are producing food and looking after soils and the wider environment. We learn best when we get our hands dirty and LEAF Open Farm Sunday is about building real, personal experiences that help everyone feel connected to food and farming and empowered to make better choices for themselves and the environment.
“These are challenging times for agriculture and public support will be critical in the years ahead. That support doesn’t just happen – it is up to farmers and landowners to build these connections and demonstrate all they deliver both as food producers and custodians of the countryside. This is exactly what our farmers have demonstrated so well this weekend.”
Robert Goodwill, minister of state at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and farmer, visited Stonebeck Gate Farm in North Yorkshire to show his support. He said: “LEAF Open Farm Sunday is a fantastic initiative, getting more people out into the countryside to see where our food comes from and meet the farmers who produce it.
“There are so many diverse British farming businesses and I hope that everyone who visited a farm today learned something new about what farming delivers and why it is so important – producing the food we eat, protecting wildlife and providing access to the beautiful countryside.
“I would like to thank every farmer who participated today, taking the time to welcome the public onto their farms.”
LEAF Open Farm Sunday 2020 will take place on Sunday 7th June. The organisers are calling for more farmers to get involved next year to meet the increasing demand from the public to visit a farm as part of LEAF Open Farm Sunday.
LEAF Open Farm Sunday is hugely grateful to its sponsors: AHDB, Arla Foods, Asda, BASF plc, Co-op, Defra, Farmers Weekly, Frontier Agriculture, John Deere, LEAF Marque, Marks and Spencer, The National Farmers’ Union, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose; and supporting sponsors: BBSRC UKRI, CPA and QMS.