Farming: much-loved but misunderstood

FARMING is much loved but few people realise its contribution to the rural economy, say university researchers.

People have widespread affection for agriculture, even though there is a surprising level of ignorance about the sector, reveals a poll.

The survey was carried out by YouGov on behalf of researchers at the Department of Land Economy, Cambridge University.

It shows that large numbers of people believe that farming is important, visit the countryside regularly and appreciate living near rural green space.

But it also uncovered a surprising level of ignorance about farming, with 72% of people admitting they know little or nothing about the sector.

That appears to be substantiated by the fact that most people dramatically underestimate the proportion of land used for farming, while overestimating its economic contribution.

Only 10% of respondents had an idea of the amount of land farmed nationally.

The mean estimation put forward by those taking part in the survey was about 35%. In fact, farming takes up about 75% of available land in the UK.

On the other hand, the mean contribution of farming to the national economy was reckoned to be about 24% by most participants. In truth, farming contributes closer to 1.5% of GDP.

Mark Reader, a specialist in farming at the Department of Land Economy, said the findings would be useful for both agricultural policy-makers and from the point of view of public well-being.

"If we want to legitimise agricultural policy, but also make sure that it is tailored to the needs of the populace, we need to know what people think," he said. "If people thought that farming wasn't important, that would be a big problem for those working in the sector."

"In fact, there is clearly a lot of affection for farming, which is surprising given how much people underestimate the amount of land it takes up.

"It is heartening to see this because food security is going to be an important issue in the years to come, as recent droughts in North America have shown.

"At the moment the UK is managing to feed itself surprisingly well on a calorie basis.

"But, as policy adapts to cope with new pressures and changes, this kind of public appreciation and recognition will prove increasingly important."

The survey was based around an online questionnaire which was carried out with 1,736 people, drawn from a panel of individuals who have agreed to take part in YouGov surveys.

Along with specific findings about the agricultural sector, it revealed evidence of a clear and widespread passion for the British countryside.

A majority of people still visit the countryside more than once a month and 82% said it was important to live within 30 minutes' striking distance of rural green space.

Significantly, 73% of Londoners – many of whom do not live within easy reach of such areas – felt this way, said Mr Reader.

"Given that a wealth of recent studies about happiness and well-being have pointed to the role our physical location plays in determining our sense of life satisfaction, that is significant."

"We should be making sure that they do not feel deprived of access to green space."

Most people also clearly see the countryside as being under threat, although not from farming.

The most troubling incursions were seen as being those of new building projects, roads and airport extensions, as well as the dumping of rubbish.



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