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Consumers unaware of farming’s scope and value

Two thirds of consumers are unaware farmers grow crops for medicine, cosmetics, rope and paper. Over 90% of consumers are unaware how much UK land is used for agriculture and the value of the sector to the UK economy. Less than half of those questioned realise that farmers care for and manage the countryside

When it comes to under­stand­ing what mod­ern farm­ing deliv­ers, most of us are unaware of just how vital an indus­try it is and how much it con­tributes to our day to day lives. A new sur­vey released today reveals that most peo­ple do not know that many British crops are used for much more than food, or appre­ci­ate the val­ue or scale of farming.

Farm­ers have a sig­nif­i­cant role in the pro­duc­tion of many com­mon­place items we use all the time, from fuel to med­i­cine and clothes to paper and much more besides. Two thirds of those ques­tioned though were unaware farm­ers grow crops for essen­tials like med­i­cine (65%), cos­met­ics (67%), rope (62%) or paper (66%). 

Although knowl­edge of more tra­di­tion­al crops such as wheat (88%), pota­toes (79%) and bar­ley (74%) was rea­son­ably high, knowl­edge of the diverse range of crops British farm­ers grow was not. Just one in ten peo­ple (10%) knew oilseed rape could be used in motor fuel, despite this crop cov­er­ing 675,000 hectares across the UK. Just 4% of peo­ple sur­veyed knew that hemp could be used in print­ing ink. Only one in ten peo­ple iden­ti­fied sea buck­thorn as a crop grown on a com­mer­cial scale, and just one in 20 knew the same was true for mis­cant­hus. Near­ly one in four peo­ple (23%) did know though that farm­ers grow bor­age, which is used for many dietary sup­ple­ments and ointments. 

Farm­ing is a huge­ly impor­tant part of our econ­o­my, yet less than one in 10 peo­ple cor­rect­ly knew that it con­tributes £10bn (0.6%) to the UK econ­o­my each year.* In fact, 15% of peo­ple thought it was just £10m or less. Just 6% of peo­ple ques­tioned cor­rect­ly iden­ti­fied that there are approx­i­mate­ly 200,000 farms in the UK**, with 64% believ­ing it was few­er than this. Like­wise, just one in 20 con­sumers recog­nised that close to three quar­ters of total UK land area is used for agri­cul­ture** — the equiv­a­lent size of over 17million inter­na­tion­al rug­by pitches. 

Less than half of those ques­tioned (47%) realised that farm­ers care for and man­age the coun­try­side, although 55% said it was impor­tant we farm sustainably. 

More than a third of farm­ers are using wind, solar and ener­gy crops to pro­duce low-car­bon ener­gy* but 90% of con­sumers were either unaware of this or believed the fig­ure to be low­er. Just one in five con­sumers were aware that farm­ers can play a part in elec­tric­i­ty pro­duc­tion. A quar­ter of UK pow­er comes from renew­able sources but again, con­sumers did not realise this or make a link to agriculture.

This lack of knowl­edge is not helped by many people’s dis­con­nect with farm­ing. The sur­vey, which was car­ried out by LEAF (Link­ing Envi­ron­ment And Farm­ing), the organ­is­ers of next weekend’s Open Farm Sun­day (5th June), revealed that, on aver­age, those ques­tioned had not vis­it­ed a work­ing farm in over nine years. A quar­ter of those ques­tioned (26%) said they had nev­er vis­it­ed a farm. 

Open Farm Sun­day events will show con­sumers the diver­si­ty of mod­ern farm­ing and the work farm­ers do to farm sus­tain­ably. Annabel Shack­le­ton, Open Farm Sun­day Man­ag­er at LEAF said: Peo­ple may not realise it but our lives depend on farm­ers for much more than just nutri­tious and deli­cious food. That is why we are call­ing on as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble to vis­it a farm on the 5th June for Open Farm Sun­day and dis­cov­er the world of farm­ing for them­selves. The major­i­ty of peo­ple we sur­veyed said that there is a lot to thank farm­ers for, but it seems they don’t realise just exact­ly how much.” 

For more infor­ma­tion on Open Farm Sun­day and to find par­tic­i­pat­ing farms vis­it www​.farm​sun​day​.org. A new video has been pro­duced by LEAF to show con­sumers how farm­ing impacts their every­day lives: https://​youtu​.be/​0​T​Z​H​V​c​Hcv7A

Five British crops and some of their applications:

1Hemp: Used in cos­met­ics, rope, print­ing ink and the build­ing and auto­mo­tive industries 

2Sea Buck­thorn: Used in cos­met­ics and nutri­tion­al supplements 

3Bor­age: Used in skin care creams, cos­met­ics and medicine 

4Mis­cant­hus: Used in heat and pow­er gen­er­a­tion

5Oilseed Rape: Used in motor fuel and lubricants

For the full press release click here.

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