'Open house' down on the farm, with public urged to visit


Farmers are opening their gates to the public amid signs people do not know the full extent of what British farming contributes to their lives.

From hemp for rope and printing ink to sea buckthorn for nutritional supplements and cosmetics and miscanthus grass for energy, crops grown in Britain have a much wider range of uses than many people realise.

A survey for Linking Environment and Farming (Leaf) ahead of its annual Open Farm Sunday event on June 5 suggests that around two-thirds of people are unaware that British farmers grow crops for such things as medicines, cosmetics, rope and paper.

Only one in 10 people knew sea buckthorn was a commercial crop and just one in 20 identified miscanthus as such, though almost a quarter (23%) were aware farmers grew borage - which is used for dietary supplements and ointments.

Farming contributes £10 billion to the economy a year and half a million people work on agricultural holdings, Leaf said, with farms not only producing the more obvious meat, dairy, cereals and vegetables.

Non-food uses for crops include hemp, wood, and jute for building materials and car components, trees such as willow and lime and grasses including miscanthus, switch and rye for energy, and wheat and sugar beet for paper and board.

And there are more than 60 hill, mountain and downland breeds of sheep, which produce around 37 million kilograms of wool a year. 

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 June 5 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."

On average, people had not visited a working farm in more than nine years, while a quarter (26%) had never been to one, the survey of 2,000 people by One Poll found.

:: To locate participating farms and for more information on Open Farm Sunday, visit www.farmsunday.org