Veganuary and Februdairy food campaigns prove the influence of social media, says Norfolk farmer Kit Papworth

Norfolk dairy cows. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Norfolk dairy cows. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

The debate sparked by food campaigns such as Veganuary and Februdairy proves the growing influence of social media on public opinion, says Norfolk farm contractor KIT PAPWORTH.

Norfolk farmer Kit Papworth.

Norfolk farmer Kit Papworth. - Credit: Kit Papworth

This month is #Februdairy, a month of positive support for the dairy industry, particularly on social media.

The farming minister George Eustice, speaking at the Norfolk Farming Conference, was pleased to confirm his support for it, alongside a number of celebrities.

Februdairy comes hot on the heels of Veganuary which, as the name suggests, promotes all things vegan. These two have not made comfortable bedfellows and this week has seen farmers receiving death threats and considerable abuse for promoting their produce in this way.

While this is totally unacceptable, freedom of expression is a human right in almost all democracies and everyone is entitled to say and eat as they wish; it is one of the ways in which we define ourselves.

Meanwhile, society does not stand still and the pace of change appears to be accelerating, partly as a result of social media.

Just 500 weeks ago, there were no smartphones. Twitter is only 11 years old and Snapchat just six years old. These disruptive advancements are changing the way we feel, act and shop, often playing on our emotions rather than sound science and yet they are some of the biggest influences on the millennial generation.

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Every farmer I have ever met has cared deeply about their animals, crops and land and will do their best to care for them but, as farmers, we must also accept that for some, the food we wish to eat and the way we buy it is changing. Organic food sales have now risen above the previous highs of 2008 and the trend towards pre-prepared food is undeniable.

Just as we think we understand these trends, something comes along to disrupt them. For many though, the cost of food remains a significant factor in their weekly budget and their choice comes down to value. The market for cheap protein and carbohydrate is still very much alive.

The way we farm is changing too. Just as farmers got their heads around feeding a global population of 10 billion by 2050 and that we must increase production, we face the prospect of leaving the EU, new trade deals and increased pressure to improve our environment, water, air and soils while utilising fewer inputs and water, and doing so on ever tighter margins.

I am in no doubt that farmers can play a part in all of these, but it must be supported by sound science. The need to improve our soils does not necessarily mean that we should abandon the plough and grow cover crops, but these are tools in the toolbox, alongside good farming practice to improve the way we manage a farm. I hope the minister does not feel the need to legislate to force change in an ever-changing industry.

• Kit Papworth is joint managing director of L F Papworth Ltd, based at Felmingham.