Putting the spotlight on food and farming

Thursday, 13 June, 2019

UFU policy manager, James McCluggage outlines challenges of educating the public about food and farming. 

The obvious challenges we face in agriculture currently include Brexit, TB, the weather and the list goes on. The challenges have never been so conspiring as to be so daunting.  However, one challenge we are coming across day and daily is the continual knocking of our industry - predominately the red meat and dairy sectors.

The big question is, how does the agri industry as a whole start to present a positive narrative around red meat and dairy against the backdrop of continual challenges in the areas of nutrition, environment and animal welfare?

In terms of educating society, schools are already constrained and budgets simply won’t stretch any further.  As farmers, we are good at farming but we aren’t qualified teachers and there is a need to get teachers on board. 

Teachers are already under time pressure with core subjects having the most focus.  Therefore, it is up to us to design a syllabus that is ready to lift off the shelf and this is where the UFU’s ‘Dig In’ resource comes into play.

Enter the ‘Dig In’ education programme which is tailored to fit in with the national curriculum.  It covers a number of areas including science, geography, mutual understanding and personal development.  It is a ready-made resource for teachers, and it gives children an educational and fun way to learn about what happens on farms. 

The ‘Dig In’ teaching resource has been a success and was initially rolled out to 250 primary schools across Northern Ireland in May 2018. We have been taken aback at the popularity of the resource and we encourage all UFU members to help us promote the resource to primary schools in their local areas.

Furthermore, Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend, which takes place 15th-16th June, is a captive audience of future consumers.  The UFU actively encourages teachers and the general public to take advantage of the opportunity to visit real, working farms. This weekend will see 18 farms opening their gates to visitors so they can see how their food is produced.

This event is now firmly established within the UFU calendar. Last year, it was a finalist in the annual Farming Life awards in the best promotional campaign or event category. An achievement, that speaks volumes in terms of the value and scale by which Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend is received amongst visitors.  We know from previous years that children, and adults, have found Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend to be very much a hands-on experience that is both educational and fun.  This is exactly what is needed to promote the industry in a positive light and for farmers to tell their story.