Why don’t more Irish farmers host open days?
This was the question I was asking myself after throwing our own gates open to the public last spring.
Admittedly, I was anxious about how things would work until the day itself.
The public’s expectations can be daunting, especially in an era when farmers are questioned on every aspect of their business.
Despite the occasional downpour and bad forecast, it had remarkably little impact on the mood of the hundreds of people that turned up on the day itself.
Some peeps tried to bring their dogs, and many turned up in the most impractical footwear, despite our best efforts to flag all this in advance.
One family had a wheelchair but we actually managed to accommodate it no problem.
And the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
So much so that the local national school asked if they could bus their 570 kids up to the field for Daffodil Day.
The kids got to pick as many daffodils they could hold for Mammy and Daddy, and created gorgeous memories that may well be seared in their brains for life.
At €5 a head, the school raised far more for the Irish Cancer Society than the routine flogging of daffodil bunches ever did. And the kids got an experience they’ll never forget.
Some of them were so delirious that they literally ran up and down the drills for the entire time they were in the field.
Others learned that the bulbs we first started with 25 years ago are the same ones that have been multiplied and replanted over and over so that they still bloom in my fields today.
It reminded me that the simple act of opening up a farm is such a powerful way to communicate with the public.
It’s the same reason that Open Farm Sunday happens every June across the UK.
In 2022, some 175,000 people visited over 250 farms that threw open their doors and welcomed the public in.
Agri Aware have been doing something similar here but on a far smaller scale.
If farmers want to win the public over by getting them to understand what really goes on at farm level, then a national open day should be an annual event.
Farm organisations spend millions of farmers’ money issuing press releases trying to counter the negatives in the battle over the public’s hearts and minds.
But is there a more powerful way to win over an often bewildered public than inviting them to see for themselves how their food is produced?
Technology like online booking allowed us to create a seamless flow of visitors.
Farmers may also be surprised to realise that their facilities are pretty impressive, courtesy of the constant reinvestment over the last 20 years to cope with quality assurance schemes and a lack of labour.
The chance of sitting up on a 700hp combine or forage harvester for as little as five minutes would be an unforgettable experience for many youngsters. And the technology in the average milking parlour is enough to impress even the most jaded consumer.
That’s before you get into the kick that people get out of getting up close and personal to some of the most genetically advanced livestock in the world.
Or the appreciation that townies have for just getting into the great outdoors.
Amid all the wrangling over how farms should be reducing their carbon footprint, we’ve forgotten that we have a job that is fascinating for people who are normally prevented from engaging with a real-life farmer.
The alternative is for farmers to rely on IFA press releases, Ear to the Ground features and a bus trip to the Ploughing Championships to educate the rest of the country about farming.
Which is fine to a point. But why are farmers content to keep their most powerful PR tool locked up behind a closed gate?