Open Farm Sunday: Why it’s important to learn more about our food
- Credit: Archant Norfolk
Next weekend's Open Farm Sunday presents an opportunity for families to learn about the agricultural world that surrounds them – and for farmers to explain how they produce our favourite foods.
Here in East Anglia's food production powerhouse, farming dominates our economy and our landscape – not to mention supplying us with one of the fundamental necessities of life.
Yet for many there is still lack of understanding about the vital industry which happens on such a huge scale behind the region's hedgerows.
But next weekend is a chance to bridge that gap, as farms unite to open their gates to visitors as part of agriculture's annual drive to educate, inform and entertain the public.
Open Farm Sunday on June 7 will be the 10th event organised by LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) to let people find out more about where their food comes from, and to talk to the farmers who produce it – whether it's the wheat for our breakfast cereals and bread, the barley which is malted to make beer, or the livestock which brings the flavour to summer barbecues and Sunday roasts.
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The farms opening across East Anglia are offering a range of traditional experiences like watching a dairy cow being milked, seeing a sheep being sheared, taking a tractor ride or joining farmers on a tour of their fields.
But there is also a drive to show what a progressive industry it has become in recent years, with modern technology on show ranging from satellite-guided driverless tractors to robotic milking machines, and hi-tech yield meters to aerial drones.
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David Jones, farm manager at Morley Farms near Wymondham, is the regional co-ordinator for Open Farm Sunday in the east.
He said: 'Open Farm Sunday is for anybody who eats food or drinks a drink. Everybody eats food three times a day, so everyone has got an interest, whether its families with children or their grandparents.
'Why do farmers want to do it? It is to show and share what people do on farms, and how we work together produce food in a responsible and safe way.
'We came through an era in the 80s and 90s where farmers were not that keen on having visitors to the farm, so everyone thought they had this 'get off my land' attitude. That does not ring true today.
'We talk about food a lot, but there's also the service that farmers provide for the countryside, and the way the landscape is shaped by farmers – particularly here in Norfolk. The landscape is made up of farms and they are all trying to look after the countryside and the rivers for wildlife, to produce food and to make a business. It is all part of one big system, and it all happens through farms.'
Bringing crop sciences to life
The Open Farm Sunday events will, of course, include many fun features like bouncy castles, nature trails and hog roasts, with opportunities for children to get close to sheep, pigs and cattle and poultry.
But for those wanting to delve beyond the immediate appeal of a day out in the countryside, farmers have found inventive ways to explain their crops, why they may need chemicals, and what equipment was used to plant and harvest them.
At Morley Farms, which is owned by The Morley Agricultural Foundation (TMAF) which funds and supports agricultural research and education, the focus will be on the region's world-leading science.
Experts from organisations including the Norwich-based John Innes Centre and British Beet Research Organisation will be on hand to answer questions. Also, demonstration plots of wheat have been treated with differing levels of fertiliser and pesticides so that visitors can see for themselves what the impact is on the health and yield of the plant – which will affect the quality of the eventual food and the profitability for the farmer's business.
Farm manager David Jones said: 'It sounds really boring to just be led up a track and shown big fields of wheat, but some of these farms have got some really good interactive events to get the message across to explain what the farm is all about, and how it all fits together.
'Here at Morley Farms, the history goes back 100 years with people doing agricultural research in Norfolk, and a lot of this research has helped shape policies and practices for what we do today. So I wanted to share some of that.
'I want to show that we are not just here chewing straw and sloshing chemicals around. It is all worked out through years of experience so that we can all work better together.'
Some things you could learn at Open Farm Sunday
• Norfolk and Suffolk are responsible for 20pc of the nation's poultry, 25pc of the UK's pig herd, 20pc of the UK's vegetables and almost 50pc of its sugar beet. But the biggest land use in the east of England is for cereal crops like wheat and barley, which account for almost half of our agricultural fields.
• For each square metre of wheat sown in September, about 1kg of grain will be harvested the following August. That's enough to make one large loaf of bread. So each hectare of wheat – about the size of a football pitch – will make more than 10,000 loaves of bread.
• The food value of a wheat plant lies in the rows of starch-filled grains or seeds, called the ear, at the top of the plant. Each ear of wheat has about 40 grains. A single grain contains about 20,000 particles of flour.
• Barley farming output in the UK is around six million tonnes, of which about two million tonnes are used in the production of malt, a key ingredient in beer and whisky.
• A square metre of barley will make enough malt to make 10 bottles of beer – or 265 packets of Maltesers
• A square metre of sugar beet will generate 8.5kg of the crop, making about 1.5kg of sugar.
• Since its launch in 2006, about 1,000 different farms have hosted Open Farm Sunday events across the country, welcoming more than 1.25 million visitors.
For full details on participating farms, opening times and activities, see www.farmsunday.org.