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Last Updated: Friday, 8 October, 2004, 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK
South: Modern MacDonald?
Ian Paul
Politics Producer, BBC South

Who would be a farmer, eh? If it's not too much rain, it's too little. You cannot compete with overseas growers who have cheaper land and lower labour costs.

Carrot harvesting
Farming: diversify into organic vegetable growing?

And supermarkets and consumers want the highest quality at the lowest prices. So what is the answer? Well, maybe for the modern farmer ... diversification.

If Old MacDonald had a farm today, he would not only have a pig and a cow, he could also have an organic farm shop, a small cider making facility and a rare breeds discovery centre, ee-i-ee-i-oh.

Will Best, of Manor Farm in Dorset, reckons that is the wrong kind of diversification.

He would rather "diversify" within farming itself, so in addition to the organic dairy herd his farm grows wheat for bread and thatching straw, and other cereals for stock feed.

But he is realistic enough to accept that there is an easier and better living to be had doing other things.

Poor ... misunderstood?

Farmers today argue that the industry is at a crossroads.

If they cannot make a decent living, then their children will not follow them into the business, and within a generation there will be nothing in the countryside except B&B's and ramblers.

Apocalyptic, maybe, but an indication of the depression into which many farmers have sunk.

And many of them think that as with hunting, the townies just do not understand the countryside, do not value it, and do not really connect with the people whose job it is to feed them from it.

Farmers markets, which you see regularly in towns across the South, have helped a lot in re-establishing a direct relationship between us, the consumer, and them - the food producer.

It may only be small potatoes, but how many of us have any idea how our food gets to us beyond finding it on the supermarket shelves?

Yet increasingly, we want to know where it came from and how it was produced.

Local consumption?

Vegetable box delivery
Organic vegetable box delivery has proved popular

Ideally, we would like it to have been produced locally as well.

Maybe "boutique" farming could be the future?

Forget the vast agribusinesses of the past; forget national self sufficiency in food.

Why not small scale production geared to local consumers?

Ashurst Organics at Plumpton in East Sussex runs an organic vegetable box scheme for the Lewes and Brighton area.

Collette Pavledis of Ashurst Organics says consumers want the type of food supermarkets cannot provide.

People remember the food they grew in their own allotment
Collette Pavledis

Ms Pavledis said: "People remember the food they grew in their own allotment or got from their local greengrocers.

"It is a taste you cannot beat."

Local shopping?

Tina Duebert from Lewes is one of Ashurst's customers and she is keen for her shopping budget to be spent in the area.

I need to know the money will stay in Lewes
Tina Duebert

Tina said: "We have a few good local shops.

"I would rather give my money to them and know the money will stay in Lewes and not go out to some supermarket headquarters somewhere."

Three of the most important decisions we make every day are what to put on our plates.

If we are not careful, we may wake up one day and find that none of it came from a British farm.

Let us know what you think.

Politics Show

Watch Politics Show, with presenter Peter Henley, on BBC One on Sunday, 10, October at 12.30pm.



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