Farming Today… right to roam and genomes; I really hope you listen as regularly as I do. The programme is now an established part of my commute, keeping me firmly rooted in the needs of primary production as I go forth to find purpose for the food and farming industry’s millions of tonnes of waste food.
While I may watch Countryfile less than I used to, Farming Today covers more in its 15 minutes than any other current affairs programme, in my opinion. Delivered by a charming, expert and dedicated team, its first broadcast was on 20 September 1960. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a 5.45am wake-up call, my rather deaf father’s clock radio waking the household throughout my childhood through to the present day, when I sit on the 5.20am to London out of Marden.
Thursday’s programme was the best of the week, in my opinion. Professor Lynne Field from Rothamstead was being interviewed by Charlotte Smith about her research programme into the genome sequencing of 19 pests in partnership with Bayer and Syngenta.
The story was brilliant on many levels; firstly it was an outstanding public/private partnership with its results in the public domain, benefitting food production globally. Secondly, the 19 pests were agreed by all three partners as having global significance to food production. Thirdly, the whole research programme had dual benefits, for entomologists and for those developing specific, targeted pest control products.
The continued move away from broad spectrum controls is correct and the development of selective compounds with zero effect on any species other than their intended target is to be applauded. The fact that this knowledge is preparing farming sciences for the advent of gene editing, looking forward to disruption systems now we know how a crop is identified and targeted by a pest species, is exciting and beneficial from an economic and environmental perspective.
The right of the general public to roam across farmland was also a hot topic this week. The debate about where people can and can’t go is back on after being raised by the Labour Party, which has stated that it will introduce a right to roam as well as wild camping throughout the Dartmoor national park.
What will this mean? The practicalities are damaging. Walkers are welcome on footpaths, of course, but paths that cross crops grow ever wider in wet weather. There are serious concerns that the right to roam across all farmed land creates enormous safety challenges for both the walkers and stock kept on the land.
Responsible and careful access following the Countryside Code is being advocated by the Ramblers, but we all know that there are many who will not observe any guidance (who among us has not had challenges with dog poo in little bags hung in trees, sheep being let out or people trying to take a dog through an orchard at harvest time?). There is going to be a lot about this heading into the general election. With farming policy in disarray, this is another area that we need to keep an eye on.
And the job at the end of the commute? Well, we are now up to an average of 256,000 meals worth of food shared each week, 47% of which is produce and all of which was waste, surplus or a retailer reject. Thank you to everyone who supports our work; you make a difference every day.