Farmers in poll position to deliver public goods.

7 January, 2020

The vast majority of UK farmers believe they are well placed to deliver ‘public goods’ and those same goods are of value to their farming businesses. In research conducted by Map of Ag. (MOA) on behalf of the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) a perceptible shift in attitude by farmers towards public goods demonstrates a positive change for the future of UK farming.

Over 1,000 farmers were polled between October and November covering all areas of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with a full range of farm sizes and enterprise types. Those polled were asked whether they were in a position to deliver public goods such as soil health, public access and biodiversity; how valuable those goods were to their own farming businesses; and what value they, the farmers, believed the public attributed to those goods. A similar poll was conducted ahead of the 2018 OFC and the shift in sentiment is clearly evident.

In respect of improving soil quality, animal welfare, adding to biodiversity, minimizing pollution from agriculture and water quality 89% of farmers polled felt they could make a real contribution, attributing a value to their own business of on average 8.4 out of 10. Those same farmers perceive that the public value those goods at an average of 7.5 out of 10, suggesting that the farming community actually rate some public goods as being of more value to their businesses than they believe wider society values those same goods.

This is significantly different to the 2017 results, where two-thirds of the sample did not connect with the provision of public goods and were quite skeptical and dismissive of the concept of public goods.

The one public good which bucks the trend is public access to land, where 62% of farmers believe they can contribute, but see this as being of much less value to their businesses.

Jim Williams, Head of Market Research at Map of Ag. said “This poll result is showing that farmers are really beginning to understand the importance of delivering public goods, in order to make their businesses resilient. The fact that in most areas farmers identify value for their business in delivering public goods, is a win ;a clear win for both the agricultural industry and a win for wider society.”

Public access to farmland remains a very emotive issue for farmers. Recognising that it is important to the public, farmers do not see how it adds value to their business. Interestingly there is no difference in the response between livestock farmers and those who run predominantly arable operations. It might have been expected that livestock farmers, with issues of stock worrying, leaving gates open, transfer of disease and the like, would be more concerned, but it appears that arable farmers have the same degree of concern as their livestock neighbours.

At the same time, there was no increased concern by farmers farming closer to large urban conurbations, it seems that wherever people are farming, public access is seen as a problem, not a value opportunity.

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