SPEAKER: Howard Petch tells farmers in Teesdale to be ready for change but to also challenge those who claim farming is “the problem”on goes here TM pic
SPEAKER: Howard Petch tells farmers in Teesdale to be ready for change but to also challenge those who claim farming is “the problem”on goes here TM pic

IT’S time for farmers to fight back by showing that agriculture is at the heart of the solution not the main problem.

That’s according to Howard Petch, an acclaimed North Yorkshire farming expert who spoke at the annual meeting of Utass (Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services) last week.

He was reacting to the way farming has been put in the spotlight in recent months with concerns raised about meat production and impact on climate change. Veganism is on the rise and voices were loud on social media, Mr Petch also noted.

However, Mr Petch said it was a good time for farmers, explaining: “One hundred years ago, it took the average worker about 60 days to earn the value of a ton of wheat. Today it would take him a day and a half.

“But on another level, it’s not easy. There is uncertainty and the relentless weather of this winter.

“There is also an undercurrent that agriculture is right at the heart of the problem. I would want to challenge that. We get messages about the mistakes made by agriculture and we have made some.

“But in my lifetime, the population of the world has more than tripled and over that period the amount of food produced has more than kept pace. That’s the achievement of agriculture in my lifetime.

“If we are going to talk about mistakes, then we need to talk about achievements.”

He said the challenge was to have a “second green revolution” without making those errors.

“But that can only be achieved with agriculture at the heart of the solution, not a main cause of the problem,” the annual meeting was told.

Mr Petch, former of Principal of Bishop Burton College who has been awarded an OBE and CBE for services to agriculture, said statistics showed the UK had the cheapest food in western Europe, adding that only globally the USA and Singapore could beat those prices.

“I’m not saying that’s a good thing – just a fact,” he said.

“But that’s not the perception of the population of agriculture at the moment.”

Farmers were told that climate change was a “game changer” and agriculture needed to act globally, nationally and locally on individual farm businesses.

Mr Petch warned that farmers in Teesdale that change was coming, explaining that there were three “zones” in the human mind.

He said: “Our default position is the comfort zone but if we spent time in that zone, we don’t enter the learning zone and end up in the panic zone.

“Farms that do not succeed are the ones that do not know what they don’t know. They carry on like its hunky dory. The great thing about not planning is that failure comes as a great surprise, instead of being preceded by a period of worry.”

Mr Petch added that the issue of meat eating would become more “nuanced” but told Utass members not to be discouraged by the “raucous voices” and instead be prepared for change.

He also explained that for some farmers, it might be the right time to move away from agriculture if it was good for them and their families.

Mr Petch was applauded for his talk, which was also praised for its humour.

In one anecdote, he told the tale of a worried farmer preparing to hand over the business to his son.

Mr Petch said: “He was unhappy with his son’s rate of work.

“One day, it came to a head and the father said, ‘I can’t believe out of six million sperm you were the quickest’.”