Having grown up on a farm in a productive farming area of south west Wales, it's unsurprising to most that TV wasn't a big part of my life. But nowadays its impact on society at large is hard to ignore; BBC Countryfile recently hit a record 6.1 million viewers and new programmes like A Year on the Farm (just broadcast on Channel 4 this week) certainly aren't a rarity. It's clear the public's interest in rural life and farming is on the rise.
Just this week we've found that this public interest in farming actually goes much further than watch programmes on TV. In a nationwide survey, nine out of 10 people said they believe farming is important to the economy and the same amount thinks it's important to have a productive farming industry. The majority - 68% - also think that farmers should receive Government support to produce food and look after the environment. This recognition indicates that at least a strong part of this public interest is passionate support for the British farming sector.
Why does this matter? Is this more than a metaphoric pat on the back from the public to farmers? Well, we know these survey results year after year are a useful barometer for the industry of farming's reputation. But the results really pay dividends for us as Government looks at the order of its post-Brexit priorities. The nation's positive view of the vital role that farming plays - in producing food, providing jobs, contributing to the economy and caring for our countryside - is powerful. This is the view of Government's electorate. I'm sure other sectors would bend over backwards to get statistics like farming's.
Everyone recognises alongside shelter and water, food is a one of life's staples. But the source of this food, beyond the supermarket of course, isn't always recognised. The association between the fields of cows or crops seen along the motorway and the loaves or steaks in the shopping basket is often missing. Regardless, the public demand for food they can trust is there - and in a big way. We all saw the 'chlorinated chicken' headlines as the Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox started the preliminary trade talks with the US. It's no surprise then that 64% of the country trust British food more than the rest of the world and 66% often or always specifically look for British food when shopping. And why shouldn't they? With a safe a traceable food system underpinned by independently audited assurance schemes like Red Tractor, we're lucky to be able to track British food from the fork right back to the farms.
At the moment we produce 60% of our own food and this rate has been historically in decline. Food self-sufficiency statistics have always been an important measure of the nation's ability to feed itself. But since the UK voted to leave the EU, and with trade negotiations now starting, the supply of British food is now seen in a very different light. Government recognition of farming's enormous contribution to this country will be vital in the coming weeks and months.
We're not advocating a fully self-sufficient nation - we recognise the need for trade to fulfil the need for food which can only be produced in different climates. But what we should be doing is maximising on the food production we are good at, and looking at the potential for this. If we buy in foods that we are capable of producing ourselves then we risk exporting all the environmental, economic and social benefits that farming delivers here in Britain.
We are calling on the Government to deliver policies that will ensure that Britain retains its ability to be more self-sufficient, support home-grown food and ensure that we have profitable, productive and progressive farm businesses for the future.Suggest a correction