Never asked to be thanked – why I’m not praising farmers for farming.

Believing you are owed eternal thanks and gratitude – simply for doing your job – is a dangerous game, which can backfire very badly.

I sat open-mouthed in disbelief when I read an opinion piece in this week’s Farmers Guardian by Phil Garnham: ‘Some heroes wear tractor overalls and worn out wax jackets’

In it, he shares a sincere hope that, when the Covid-19 crisis comes to an end, “there is some support left for UK agriculture and it isn’t all spent in the praise of the NHS.”

Did he actually write that?!

I couldn’t decide if Phil was throwing a pity party or just gloating. The message I got loud and clear was: “Now you need us! Can’t get your dozen eggs? Serves you right for being so mean to us.”

He certainly feels it’s time for people to stop criticising farmers and start praising them.

I’m a huge supporter of British farming, and grateful for the wealth of British produce I can a) trust, b) afford and c) enjoy eating. It’s a privilege we enjoy as UK consumers – not everyone in the world is so lucky – and I agree too many people take it for granted. How galling it must be for those who work so hard to produce it.

And for those farmers, particularly in our dairy industry, whose livelihoods are in desperate trouble because of this crisis – my heart goes out to them. I have heard their stories first-hand and wonder at the strength it must take to keep going.

But will I be reserving special praise and a Thursday night clap for all farmers, simply for being farmers, during this pandemic? No. I won’t.

The farmers I’ve spoken to, including my own Dad, say their lives are carrying on pretty much as normal and that self-isolation feels quite familiar. They’ve expressed gratitude for being largely shielded from the virus on their farms and feel enormously privileged to be able to take their daily exercise on acres rather than square metres, unlike the millions of people squashed into high-rise flats and inner-city housing estates.

Yeah, but they’re out there “drilling, spraying, feeding livestock and maintaining our 71 per cent of this green and pleasant land,” says a disgruntled Phil Garnham.

And they’d be doing that anyway Phil – with or without Coronavirus. It’s their job. It is not a torturous act of self-sacrifice so “others have access to footpaths.”

To try and compare a farmer’s experience right now with what NHS workers are facing on the front line every day is an affront. If your sheep were dying of a contagious virus that could kill you too, and yet you still cared for them every day, then I would praise you. If your cows were coughing viral particles into your face and you didn’t have a mask to protect you, then I would praise you. If your co-workers were dying from a virus they’d picked up on the farm, and you still went to work there every day, then I would praise you.

Yes, farmers do a great job. As a consumer, I know they have my back and I’m grateful to feel food secure. But – right now – I am happy to give the NHS all my praise. Unreservedly.

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