HRH The Prince of Wales: Why telling the story of environmentally-friendly farming is just as important as the farming itself

In his annual birthday message in Country Life magazine, The Prince of Wales applauds efforts to combat climate change and acknowledges the urgent need to explain the value of the food our farmers produce.

In the November 13 issue of Country Life, The Prince writes of the need for ‘a fresh, positive and practical vision of the future that will inspire and guide the changes we need to make.’ He also hammers home the point that unless people understand what they’re dishing up on their plates, they’re unlikely to see the need to demand that their food is produced in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way.

‘It is unreasonable to expect an increasingly urban population to understand and support food production in the countryside if we fail to explain it properly,’ he says.

‘There is no doubt in my mind that in their hearts many farmers would like to move in this direction, but there are no prizes for going out of business while you are trying to do the right thing’

‘The story we need to be able to tell is one that starts with provenance and farming methods, including the breed of animal or variety of fruit or vegetable, and then places those things within a wider environmental context. To be compelling, we need to be able to point to an absence of chemicals, artificial fertilizers made from fossil fuel, hormones, antibiotics and genetic modification, and to stress the benefits — including carbon capture and storage — from rebuilding soil fertility through the reintroduction of lost organic matter as part of a sustainable, pasture-fed livestock grazing regime, along with high standards of animal welfare and the safeguarding of biodiversity.’

The Prince, whose leader article is published to mark his 71st birthday, adds that farmers are hamstrung by the economic realities, since intensive, chemical-dependent farming is more profitable than more sustainable methods.

‘There is no doubt in my mind that in their hearts many farmers would like to move in this direction, but there are no prizes for going out of business while you are trying to do the right thing,’ he says.

‘You can’t blame farmers for not adopting sustainable practices on a wider scale unless it is profitable for them to do so.’

The Prince also discusses the problem of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, raising several caveats about some of the ideas that have been put forward — including the idea of planting more trees.

‘Trees provide the perfect mechanism for locking away carbon dioxide,’ he says, ‘but I hope we will resist the temptation to return to the bad old days of blanket afforestation, using a single species of tree to cover vast acres with dark, forbidding forests. We need to think very carefully indeed about the mix of species we plant and be clear about the full range of benefits we should be seeking. For instance, our native trees have a wide range of biodiversity attached to them. Over 300 insect species are associated with oak trees. The horse chestnut, lovely though it is, has only four. And the invasive, non-native rhododendron has none.’

‘These debates present a false dichotomy and are a huge distraction from the essential task of protecting and enhancing the fundamental things that make the countryside a special place’

As The Prince comes towards his conclusion, he explains how we need to work together to find the right way forward, rather than thinking of environmental issues and land usage as separate things.

‘My heart sinks whenever I hear new evidence of what appears to be a mounting divide between strongly held views on environmental issues and equally strong views about how rural land should be managed,’ he says.

‘If there are two camps, then I have one foot firmly ensconced in each, which is distinctly uncomfortable. In reality, these debates present a false dichotomy and are a huge distraction from the essential task of protecting and enhancing the fundamental things that make the countryside a special place to live, work and visit.’

The paragraph of the four-page article carries a message of hope and optimism:

‘I am always struck by the resilience, good humour and positive attitudes of the people who live and work there. I am certain they can make the huge and far-reaching changes that are required, once the right framework has been established, while maintaining the very special character that makes our countryside so special.’

Read HRH The Prince of Wales’ complete birthday leader article in the 13 November edition of Country Life


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