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The plight of our dairy farmers is a threat to our pastoral landscapes
Visitors and communities love their countryside but it is only kept as beautiful pastoral views by the good grace of the farmers. If we want pleasing views and not heavy industrialised farming then we need to pay the true price of milk (and other produce) so the scenic values become more resilient. The current threat to British dairy farmers, where milk is sold for less than the cost of production, is similar to Australia. It demonstrates that the modern supply chain is not sustainable; it threatens the viability of farmers and our Agri-Culture. In Australia we have already lost two thirds of our dairy farms down from 22,000 in 1979 to just under 7,000 in 2011. Own label milk is used as a pricing incentive to attract shoppers, but does not reflect the ture value of dairy farmers.
If dairy farms close, new owners of prime lush green agricultural land have to generate a return on investment. This may result in a change in the look of the landscape and its heritage pastoral values. It is therefore in the interests of tourism providers and communities to involve local agriculture in a local sustainable supply chain management programme to pass down a higher yield achieved through value adding, producer markets and restaurant menus. This will go to help support farmers and thus the heritage values of the landscape visitors have come to enjoy. This commitment would also help to recognise the true social value of our farmers and farming communities.
The loss of family-run businesses to corporation farms has a far greater social potential impact than just a change in ownership. This is because large farms primarily focus of cost efficiencies and commercial values, compared with family-run businesses which provide both livelihoods and an authentic heritage way of life. Tourism providers also would benefit from supporting local farming families because they are often interwoven into the fabric of local communities over many generations and contribute to the character of place. There have been and are attempts to engage farmers in agri-tourism, through farm gate and on farm activities. These will only have moderate impact because not all farmers seek to engage with the public, nor have time/energy to provide ‘farm experiences’. Many do not recognise that entrepreneurial qualities and opportunity recognition are important skills required to make a successful agri tourism project. While for some farmers the idea of ‘performing farming’ for tourists is a demoralising prospect. Overall being a good dairy farmer requires a different mindset and skill base than being a good tourism marketeer. Not all farming families seek to be the latter. This suggests we need a range of strategies, not solely direct agritourism experiences, that include passing down the true price for milk to the dairy farmer by way of generating a higher margin from visitors who are prepared to buy authentic fresh local produce. In this manner we are helping the farmer look after the landscape which tourism and communities currently enjoy for free.
The French ensured that European Union subsidies protected French smallholder farms (much to the annoyance of the British). Today France is the most visited tourism country in the world with over 78 million visitors per annum. Many of these visitors are attracted by the rural landscape and consume local French lifestyle and produce. Many of these farmers are not supporting their incomes through direct agritourism, instead society recognises and supported them simply for their cultural contribution which in turn helped to conserve their authenticity. Meanwhile town square markets are filled with locals and tourists buy local fresh produce and cheeses, restaurants create local cuisine using the ingredients from the local area, all help to showcase the regional point of difference. It is a holistic, mutually respectful sense of place whose authenticity is enjoyed by so many visitors.
In Australia and Britain council planners can only apply government codes, regional economic development managers can only try to stimulate productivity, neither can protect the landscape alone. It is up to communities, tourism providers and visitors to support those who feed us. It is up to talented chefs and cooks to value add creating a regional point of difference and in so doing pay a fair price for ingredients. In essence farmers are conservationists. They help to maintain our rural way of life and the cultural country identity which visitors feel is part of their heritage. Much more must be practically done to help them conserve our pastoral landscapes.
What you can do
Consider how you and your business can support the Australian Year of the Farm 2012, the UN Year of Family Farming 2014 and the importance of maintain biodiversity in agricuture to help create your regions Local Distinctiveness add value and encourage diveristy through free range and organic alternatives.