BBC Countryfile presenter Adam Henson gives farming insight at Easton and Otley College talk
PUBLISHED: 20:49 30 November 2017 | UPDATED: 10:56 01 December 2017
One of the nation’s most famous farmers talked about his TV career and explained his thoughts on the future of his industry during a talk at a Norfolk college.
BBC Countryfile presenter Adam Henson spoke at Easton and Otley College, outside Norwich, during an event sponsored by the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association (RNAA) and Lloyds Bank, for which he is a farming ambassador.
He explained how diversification was critical to the success of his business at Cotswold Farm Park, which features rare breed livestock, children’s activities, a restaurant and shop and attracts 145,000 visitors a year.
And the TV presenter entertained guests with stories of how his uncle had once appeared in sitcom Fawlty Towers, and how his animals had been used in Hollywood movies including Mel Gibson’s epic drama Braveheart and Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe.
But his key message was that farmers needed to engage with the public to create a sense of value and understanding about their work.
“There is such a divide between what the farmer is doing and what the public understands,” he said. “We have got to get across that. There has to be trust and integrity in what we are doing, and the other thing that is very important is that we have got to make money.
“One thing farmers are very bad at is shouting from the rooftops when you are making a lot of money. We want to employ the best people, and have the best animal welfare and environment, and we want to invest in the future of our business. You need to make money to do this.
“Conservation is key, too. It is really important that the present generation of farmers carries on tidying up our act. I think it is part of our responsibility but it is also part of ‘brand agriculture’. The general public wants to see us looking after their environment for them, and for politicians it is part of the rural domain. They want to see us bringing people onto the land to show them how we are looking after the landscape.”
Mr Henson said Countryfile’s nine million peak viewers proved there was a public interest in the countryside – but individual farmers also needed to play their part in transmitting messages about food production, even in intensive poultry or livestock production.
“Intensive farms should open their doors and show how food is produced at a price the customer wants,” he said. “They then give the public a choice.
“If you want a chicken for £2, then it is produced like this, but if you want to pay £15 then it can be produced differently.
“We are no longer in the position where we can say ‘press out’ and close the doors. If we have a reporter outside a business, next to sign, saying: ‘We asked about the welfare standards at this farm, but we were denied access’... what does that say?
“If you wake up in the morning and think: ‘I hope no-one ever finds out what we do in here’ then you shouldn’t be doing it.”
“The public is getting involved and loves what we do. We have to learn how to talk to them and how to get them on our side, buying British and supporting British agriculture.
“At Countryfile Live we had a pen of piglets and a child asked us if they were puppies. The knowledge void out there is shocking. We have got a lot of work to do to get our message out there.”
Mr Henson also fielded questions from RNAA members, college students and Countryfile fans, on subjects ranging from farm careers and genetically-modified crops to Brexit and agri-tech innovations.
Acting principal of Easton and Otley College, Jane Townsend, said: “We were delighted to support this RNAA event. We highly value our relationship (with the RNAA) and it was a pleasure to work in partnership with them whilst hosting the visit of Adam Henson to the college.
“Adam’s passion for farming shone through his insightful talk. And his message to young people that you have to be forward thinking, innovative and business minded if you want to get into agriculture, is a message that resonates strongly with us in terms of what we are trying to do.”
For more on Mr Henson’s visit to Norfolk, see Saturday’s EDP Farm and Country Pages.