DES MOINES, IOWA – When you visit London, if you find yourself on The Tube, you’ll be cautioned to “Mind the Gap”. This means to be careful about the step between the subway platform and the train. There’s another dangerous gap in London and around the world, between agriculture and consumers. It’s a gap of understanding.
Ian Pigott: UK Farmer: “We are in danger of returning to an era where the farmer is guilty until proven innocent.”
Ian Pigott is a fourth generation farmer from the United Kingdom and the recipient of the 2014 Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award. Pigott has used that observation to propel him to action in opening lines of communication with consumers, a mission to close the gap.
Pigott farms 1,800 acres, a mere 20 miles from the City of London and 13 million people. It’s clear that his proximity to all of those consumers shapes his understanding of the importance of communicating openly about farming. And here consumers and farmers have been distant from each other for longer, perhaps five generations.
In 2006 Pigott founded Open Farm Sunday. It’s a day where more than 400 farmers throw open their gates and welcome consumers, free of charge. This takes place annually the second Sunday in June and so far, more than 1.5 million consumers have participated.
Open Farm Sunday has three objectives:
- In welcoming visitors, we show ourselves as an industry that’s open and proud.
- It’s a great story that appeals to the national media.
- It creates a united platform for all sectors of farming to stand together with one goal – promoting farming as it is.
Pigott sees the education of today’s consumers and tomorrow’s policy makers as integral to the challenge of feeding 9 billion people by the year 2050. With an eye toward the future, Pigott recently started TheFarmschool.
Ian Pigott: UK Farmer: “We need to continue to educate our younger audiences about farming, but the reach of these resources needs widening, especially as school children reach an age when they form opinions and challenge critical thinking.”
TheFarmschool brings two to three schools to the Pigott farm each week, where students learn the good news story about agriculture, the relationship between science and nature. He says as schools appreciate the benefits of outdoor learning, we in agriculture should make the most of this opportunity.
Another platform for Pigott is the disconnect between scientific research and agriculture that’s happened in the UK. To change this, Pigott invites researchers out of the laboratory and onto his farm. He also invites farmers to meet with the scientists to share stories and challenges. He pictures Dr. Norman Borlaug in this kind of an environment, not in a laboratory, but out in a wheat field, sleeves rolled up – talking with farmers.
One more agenda: future farmers.
Pigott says in the UK, farming and being a farmer is in vogue. Farmers are used in marketing campaigns to sell everything from pickup trucks to beer.
Ian Pigott: UK Farmer: “Our image is being hijacked, and we’re portrayed with pitchforks and straw hats, as somewhat intellectually challenged. That hurts our ability to attract the best and the brightest to our industry. It infers an industry that has not adapted to change and embraced science.”
Pigott has put a lot of his time into Bright Crop, a cross industry initiative to promote careers within farming and food to 14 to 18-year-olds. He stresses the importance of connecting with teachers so they understand how agriculture and science are intertwined.
Ian Pigott: UK Farmer: “In the UK, we estimate that we need an additional 75,000 new entrants in the next six to eight years to fill the vacant positions. Without education, children will not challenge these stereotypes.”
All of these platforms, Pigott believes, help us in our global quest to feed the world.
- Communicating with consumers
- Communication with school children and teachers
- Building a dialog between farmers and researchers
- Attracting future employees to agriculture
Ian Pigott received the 2014 Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award on Tuesday, October 14 in Des Moines, Iowa at a Global Farmer Awards Dinner hosted by Truth About Trade & Technology and CropLife International. The award is given annually since 2007 and recognizes a global farmer who exemplifies strong leadership, vision and resolve in advancing the rights of all farmers to choose the technology and tools that will improve the quality, quantity and availability of agricultural products around the world. It was established to honor Dean Kleckner, Chairman Emeritus of the organization. Previous award recipients are Rosalie Ellasus, Philippines (2007); Jeff Bidstrup, Australia (2008); Jim McCarthy, Ireland (2009), Gabriela Cruz, Portugal (2010); Gilbert arap Bor, Kenya (2011) Rajesh Kumar, India (2012) and V. Ravichandran, India (2013).