Monday, March 12, 2012

BBC Countryfile moves further away from farming

BBC Countryfile moves further away from farming

Many farmers are complaining that 'their' TV slot is being hi-jacked by people they describe as 'the sandal brigade', 'foodies and fadies'  and 'rural tourism' and so on. It's hard to deny it. 
But, as Andrew Thorman explained to a group of farming journalists from the GAJ, the audiences for all the farming programmes, including the early morning Farming Today, have increased
in size and breadth so that actual farmers make up a small, and in Countryfile terms, a very small part of the total. Despite it’s funding, audience size is a vital part of the BBC’s remit. If the figures go up, the conclusion is that people approve and want more of the same. Declining numbers indicate dissatisfaction and the need to make changes. 
So changes will happen to programmes as a consequence of both rising and falling viewer numbers, and the farming component of these is becoming increasingly small as their popularity grows.  
Adam Henson valiantly keeps the farming story alive on Countryfile, and does a great service for people who have a genuine interest in farming. He will, of course, be too earthy for some, who find it difficult to agree with the whole concept of meat production, or see herding and moving animals distasteful - but one then questions their reasons for watching Countryfile in the first place. 
As a farmer, and one who spends a lot of time reporting innovative farming methods, I want to help Adam along, showing him and farmer viewers of the programme some of the small but significant developments farmers make to machines to improve their use. But, after Andrew Thorman’s talk, I can see that ideas, interesting though they may be to farmers, may well be too technical and specific for the general audience, which is still having some difficulty in distinguishing hay from straw, or sheep from goats. 

Snacker adapted to carry sheep
Adam was, in his consistent manner, explaining the management of his pregnant ewes, and their need for
supplementary feed, and we see him with his Logic branded snacker. It all worked well and his flock got round the feed okay. But the stockman in me says 'look for the straggler, the ewe that isn't moving so fast'. Generations of farmers know feeding is a good time to discover the poorly ones which needs attention. They don't move so fast and are soon on their own and stand out from the crowd.
Showing how one farmer has converted his snacker so he can pick up a couple of sheep while out in the field feeding would be a great chance to give farmer viewers something new. 

Goat management helped with lifting table
The programme also took us to a goat farm, and here again Practical Farm Ideas has an innovation that makes the management of the goats that much easier.  It's a quick lift platform which means the herdsman can pare their feet without bending down to the ground. The farmer we feature moved from keeping 50 cows to 400 goats, which spend the winter indoors and go out in the summer.  But they prefer life indoors when the weather is poor - goats like it warm and dry. The goat's foot grows at a real pace and needs trimming twice a year if lameness is to be avoided.  400 x 4 = 1,600  and that's a lot of bending in the course of a year. The lift he made is simple and quick to use, and is so much better he is now okay to work on feet for many hours at a stretch.

The John Craven issue

The programme examines public issues through John Craven, who frequently comes to conclusions which farmers don’t want or need to hear.  
The conclusion he came to over greenhouse gasses from cattle was that we should use fewer animal products, as well as changing the diet of the cattle that are left. In the previous week he was picking holes in food labels and describing what the Red Tractor means, or rather doesn't mean in comparison to others such as the Soil Association. 
This section of Countryfile probably makes more sense to a population who know more about climate change, and the melting of ice caps than they do about keeping cattle or other livestock. For them, rightly or wrongly, these issues are vital to the future of our planet and the lives of children and grtandchildren, and are a huge part of the heritage which we hand on. So they are, in fact, hugely important - long term - even if the science is still a bit iffy. 

For Practical Farm Ideas, which is dealing with today and not tomorrow, the concern is to help farmers reduce the levels of input, be that diesel, electric power, or the purchase of machinery which of course has its own considerable carbon footprint. The issue for the magazine is to provide ideas and help for today, and there is no real dichotomy between the two. Fewer litres of diesel per hectare is good for the farmers pocket today, and the the environment in the future. 

Here's a link to the current issue of Practical Farm Ideas - still published with no advertising but featuring another 40 or so innovations (including the snacker modification above).

Maybe you have gizmos you have made yourself?  In fact, if you are a working farmer, you WILL have gizmos of your own!  And it would be great to hear about them. Farm Ideas makes a real community, one where people can be put in touch with one another, and see, without the complication and time involved travelling and visiting, how other farmers have solved common problems.  Like moving sick sheep with a snacker!  Or not getting back-ache when doing goats' feet!

very best wishes

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