Let’s not bite the hands that feed us

oes George Pitcher really want to see the countryside turned into a theme park (MW September 5)?

Diversification into tourism and retail is not the only answer to the malaise in UK farming, and will never work for everybody. Location can limit options: a Northumbrian hill farm can’t turn itself into a tourist attraction as easily as one in crowded Sussex.

Pitcher rightly observes that “free-market” economics are driving farmers to the wall. But we don’t have to accept this state of affairs without question. When farms go out of business, we all lose. Those forced out tend to be the small to middle-sized mixed farms, which keep rural communities alive as well as maintaining the countryside and wildlife we all value. A truly “post-agrarian” society would be a vastly impoverished one.

The Countryside Alliance march showed the extent of rural people’s frustration that urbanites don’t understand their plight. Their own representatives must take some of the blame for that. The National Farmers’ Union has belatedly added its voice to the handful of groups highlighting the disparity between farm-gate food prices and those on supermarket shelves, but has generally seemed more sympathetic to agribusiness than to family farms.

Not surprising then that the Countryside Alliance, for all its simplistic agenda, has attracted the support of many whose primary concerns lie beyond fox-hunting. Farmers need a truly independent voice that addresses the real causes of the farm crisis and demonstrates the common ground, not the conflicts, between rural food-producers and urban consumers.

Sarah Finch

The Forster Company

London SE1

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