The British public is more engaged, passionate and informed about farming practices and environmental issues than ever.
That was the message from environmental farming body LEAF following this year’s Open Farm Sunday (LOFS), with 230,000 people reported to have visited a working farm in England, Wales or Scotland on 9 June.
The feedback from both farmers and visitors indicates a growing interest in British agriculture, food production, farming technology, and, in particular, sustainable farming practices for land management, soil and water health.
LOFS manager Annabel Shackleton said farmers had been “blown away by the calibre and quantity of questions from visitors about environmental practices”.
Initial statistics suggest that more visitors came from urban locations than in previous years and that there was an increase in the number of people who had never been on a farm before.
Events took place from the Channel Islands to Shetland, ranging from informal farm walks to self-guided tours, tractor-and-trailer rides and large-scale educational events with organised activities and local stallholders.
Of the 361 events held nationwide, there was a significant increase in the proportion of smaller events held for up to 50 people, while 33 per cent more farms opened in Yorkshire and 22 per cent more in Scotland.
More than 25 per cent of farmers involved were hosting for the first time – with 50 per cent more in Scotland and 38 per cent more in Wales – and hundreds of volunteers across the industry supported the events, including agronomists, vets and retailers.
LEAF chief executive Caroline Drummond said: “With farming and food supply in the news so much over the last 12 months, visitors were keener than ever this year to know more about how we are producing food and looking after soils and the wider environment.
“We learn best when we get our hands dirty and LEAF Open Farm Sunday is about building real, personal experiences that help everyone feel connected to food and farming and empowered to make better choices for themselves and the environment.
“These are challenging times for agriculture and public support will be critical in the years ahead. That support doesn’t just happen – it is up to farmers and landowners to build these connections and demonstrate all they deliver both as food producers and custodians of the countryside. This is exactly what our farmers have demonstrated so well this weekend.”
The LOFS ticketing service, a free online booking service launched in 2018 to allow host farmers to manage numbers, was used by 47 farms this year compared to nine last year.
LOFS 2020 will take place on Sunday 7 June and organisers are calling for more farmers to get involved next year to meet increasing demand from the public.