WMN opinion: Farming's value to society underestimated for too long
The benefits of a breath of fresh air are well known. Whether it be a screen break, a run, a ride or a weekend stroll, some time in the great outdoors is a well-known tonic for most.
Perhaps then it is no surprise that the Westcountry's guardians of the countryside, our farmers, are now being acknowledged as holding the key to many future health and social care issues.
So says a new report commissioned by the Oxford Farming Conference, which opens today.
"Farming's contribution is much greater than you might think," conference chairman Mike Gooding told the Western Morning News.
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"Our farmers have the skills and geographical reach to address some of society's fundamental challenges such as health, wellbeing and self-sustaining communities; but turning that opportunity into reality requires a better connection between wider society and farmers, and it is a two-way process."
And with those words Mr Gooding summed up what has probably been farming's greatest problems and greatest frustrations for several decades: farmers, farming, agriculture, agribusiness, call it what you will, has simply been undervalued. Its contribution to society and communities beyond simply food production is immense.
None of this will be new to many living in the rural South West.
For years communities have watched with some trepidation as farms are broken up and sold.
Many traditional farmsteads have been separated from the land they were at the centre of, and land has either been consolidated or broken into increasingly smaller parcels.
There are many different reasons, some economic some societal, for those changes in the farming landscape, many of them necessary.
But the real danger has always been that the value of properly run, well cared for, productive working farm land has been undervalued.
The report being presented to the conference today was undertaken by Professor Michael Winter, professor and director of the Centre for Rural Policy Research at the University of Exeter, and Dr Peter Carruthers of Vision 37 Ltd.
And it should be warmly welcomed.
Its primary objective of the study was to uncover some of farming's less recognised social benefits beyond the environment and animal welfare, and beyond its £95 billion worth to the national economy.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson says he is now looking at new ways to reward farmers for the public good they deliver other than putting food on the table. This too is news to be welcomed.
For too long the value of these guardians of the countryside have been underestimated by all other than those among whom they live and work.
And it is now time for the skills, knowledge and geographical reach that they provide to be properly harnessed for the good of all.