The day after the IFPRI and the WRI released a major report saying the world's ability to feed itself is at risk from farming methods that have degraded soils, parched aquifers, polluted waters, and caused the loss of animal and plant species, thanks to Stokely for this wonderful winge:
"pro-environment, pro-vegetarian, anti-farmer ... If it continues down its present track, sounding increasingly like Greenpeace Meets the RSPB on an Organic Farm in Middle England, if it doesn't think long and hard about its tone, the nature of its stories and the information it provides, it will become increasingly irrelevant, and could find itself metamorphosing into Farming Yesterday."
Has Farming Today really lost its way?
Western Morning News (Plymouth) February 5, 2001
Amid criticism of the BBC's flagship agricultural programme, WMN Farming Editor CAROL TREWIN condemns its 'pro-environment, pro-vegetarian, anti -farmer' bias 'Almost every farmer I talk to says it is irrelevant, ill -informed or anti- farmer' LET me be totally honest.
For three years I was the editor of Farming Today and for the four preceding years I produced many of BBC radio's farming programmes. So it would be easy to accuse me of sour grapes if I join the growing chorus of criticism of what was once Radio 4's flagship farming programme.
However, almost every farmer I talk to, and many of their leaders, tell me that they no longer listen to the programme because it is irrelevant, ill- informed or anti-farmer. As Devon farmer Richard Haddock said last week, there is sometimes more farming information in The Archers than in Farming Today. I should also admit that I am among the famous radio soap opera's four million regular listeners, and I believe that its farming content has improved dramatically in the last couple of years. Leaving aside the tone of its politics when Tony Blair addressed the National Farmers' Union AGM last year, The Archers has sensitively and accurately portrayed the farming crisis and its impact on a rural community, even though the agricultural editor, Graham Harvey, admitted recently that he had been criticised by farmers for being too gloomy! What The Archers delivers in dramatic form, Farming Today should be matching with groundbreaking, authoritative news stories. But I increasingly find myself agreeing with those who see it as increasingly an anti -farmer programme dominated by a handful of pressure groups with an overtly anti-farming, pro-environment, pro-vegetarian agenda. Last week it included a debate about whether sheep farming in the hills is cruel (it was edited in such a way that listeners with no prior knowledge of sheep farming would have concluded that it is); but it did not mention the dairy farmers' blockades of Dairy Crest plants or Exeter University's report on the cost of maintaining the countryside. While I was editor I was frequently asked why farmers should have a specialist programme of their own.
Why was there not Mining Yesterday and You and Your Steel Foundry to represent coal miners and steelworkers? Research showed that only one in ten of the 600,000 listeners each morning was connected with the farming industry. Mrs Thatcher was a regular listener and wrote to congratulate us on our 50th anniversary. The programme's approach was to cover the most important farming stories, and give key information, in a way that appealed to non-farming listeners and offered them an insight into what was - for many - another, unknown world. The daily litany of market prices ended in the early 1990s - because the growth of information technology provided a better information service than a 15-minute radio programme. The point then was that Farming Today was not a specifically pro-farming programme. It was about the farming industry, but was not partisan. It would criticise poor practices where criticism was needed, and it would be honest about issues that sometimes farmers and politicians would prefer not to be aired. The programme's producers struggled for years to persuade any of the BBC's news programmes to take the threat of BSE seriously, as it emerged in mid 1980s.
Farming Today and, incidentally, The Food Programme, continued reporting the story almost unacknowledged, until March, 1996, when suddenly every BBC radio and television news programme wanted to know about this disease and who the experts were. Farming Today was the source of expertise, it was authoritative, and farmers trusted it. Until the BSE crisis, neither farming nor rural affairs had been high on the political agenda, but in 1996 that changed forever.
Five years on, the programme's biggest difficulty is that it no longer has the farming and rural affairs news agenda to itself. Major agricultural stories now appear on all the flagship news programmes, like Today or the World at One.
That might suggest that Farming Today had to alter its agenda and become more sensational to survive. Across the agriculture industry there is a deep feeling and disappointment that the programme has lost its way, and seems more intent on scoring cheap points with shock-horror food scare stories than painting a picture of an industry that is fighting its way through the worst recession in living memory. If it continues down its present track, sounding increasingly like Greenpeace Meets the RSPB on an Organic Farm in Middle England, if it doesn't think long and hard about its tone, the nature of its stories and the information it provides, it will become increasingly irrelevant, and could find itself metamorphosing into Farming Yesterday. - WMN Farming Editor Carol Trewin produced BBC Radio 4's farming programmes from 1990 to 1997. She edited Farming Today from 1994 to 1997.