Essay by Alexandra, Rida and Arthur

Photography by Paul P

Scarecrows by Hattie

The Last Straw

Farming’s tough and getting tougher
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In ancient Greece, farmers based their scarecrows on Priapus, the well-endowed God of fertility. As well as overseeing prolificacy, Priapus also acted as the deity for livestock, gardens and nature. Farmers found his likeness to be an effective way of keeping birds away from their crops and although the farmers owed their good harvests to Priapus’ auspiciousness, his efficacy may have had more to do with the fact he was horrifyingly ugly with a giant, permanent erection.

In Japan, farmers called their scarecrows Kakashis and would mount old dirty rags, bells and sticks on a pole before lighting the pungent puppet on fire. The flames and smell kept birds and other animals away from their rice fields.

For a figure that is so often literally faceless, the scarecrow has many identities. It’s been omnipresent in civilisation since the beginnings of the agricultural revolution, put to work by the farmer to scare off hungry local creatures with its grotesque appearance. It flaps its arms in the wind, masquerading as a living thing, but is dead-eyed and silent when you get up close. It wears the farmer’s old clothes and stands in a field of crops it has no intention of farming, an unknowing imposter.


As land has always been irresistible to a keen investor, the value of British farms has risen steadily for decades. Over the last ten years, the price of arable land has risen by 137%. By comparison, property in London has risen by just 79% in the same timeframe. This has made it a prime target for investors, whether they’re in the agricultural business or not. Increasingly, overseas investors have begun to turn their eye to British farmland with many buying in order to rent back to traditional farmers, wind turbine manufacturers and fracking companies.

The more acres investors snap up, the higher land prices are driven. To the point that farmers looking to buy their own land aren’t able to afford to repay mortgage loans. As a result, what we’re seeing are fewer plots of farmland with actual farmers on them.

The wealthy swooping in for the farmer’s soil is only the beginning in a long list of issues surrounding modern agriculture. As Brexit looms on an unclear horizon for all industries, farming, the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, may be one of the worst hit. More than half of farm income comes in the form of EU subsidy and nearly all the UK’s food regulations are made in Europe. The tightening of borders that will inevitably be put in place when the UK leaves the European Union will compound these factors further, making the already arduous task of finding labour even more difficult.

Farmers are by necessity, industrious. However, to overcome these obstacles and to produce food with a reasonable enough profit margin to make a living, there is yet another obstacle to overcome. The public. And how, when it comes to food production, we are utterly clueless.

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83% of the UK population live in urban areas. A survey by Morrison’s this summer found that half of respondents had never met a farmer in their lives and had no idea how food on a farm is produced. The ubiquity of farmers in children’s books, TV shows and nursery rhymes doesn’t carry on into adulthood, so we’re left with a fairytale image of the bewellingtoned, stoic but rosy-cheeked countryman from our childhood. In reality, farmers do not live a life painted in bright primary colours, talking to their animal friends and living off the fat of the land.

A survey conducted by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) in 2014 concluded, “It’s heartening that shoppers are not only aware of the farming sector but are consciously making the right decisions to back British farming”. However true this may be, supermarkets are only too aware of this wholesome perception of farming, and the eagerness of food shoppers to spend on local produce. In March 2016 Tesco launched seven brands – including Woodside Farms and Boswell Farms. In April 2016 Asda renamed its ‘Smart Price Food’ range to ‘Farm Stores’. These farm inspired names were given to some foods that were imported from overseas in a clear move by supermarket corporations to profiteer off an image of the quintessential British farmer.

The problem is that there continues to be little understanding as to what terms like "local", "sustainable", or even "organic" mean, or why they might be important. That is because the same marketing is used to sell us everything from trucks to cereal; milkshakes to organic yogurt. If marketing products is the same as a brand "telling its story" the waters get muddied. If all consumers see are romantic images of farms, they learn nothing of the true financial, social and environmental complexities of farming.


1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems at some point in their lives. Whilst generally, people living in the countryside probably have better mental health than those in towns or cities, those living in rural areas who do develop mental illness are less likely to seek help than their city-based counterparts.

Financial pressures resulting from market fluctuations, livestock disease or poor harvests are obvious examples of how stress can affect the mental health of farms but concerns about policies, administration and legislation can also be factors. Not seeking support when stress first emerges can lead to the situation becoming far more serious. Reasons for such delays might include higher levels of stigma or difficulties accessing mental health services. It is also easier for people in the countryside to become isolated or not admit to having problems, and in turn seek out help at a much later stage or not at all.

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Unlike our scarecrow, farmers are taking progressive steps forward towards a brighter future. A younger generation of modern agriculturalists are overhauling traditional farming through the use of technology and new methodology, setting 2017 as the tightest harvest run since records began with developments in GPS, self-driving technology, drones and targeted fertiliser machines.

Whilst there is still more to be done in educating the public on where our food comes from, this year, supermarket chain Morrisons pledged to support real British farmers by not adopting brands using fake farm names after the backlash by the National Farmers’ Union and concerns by shoppers. The retailer is urging shoppers to visit stores to meet real farmers who will explain the benefits of UK-grown food.

Yana (You Are Not Alone) is an organisation that specifically works with people in agriculture who suffer from mental health issues. They recognise the reluctance that some farmers may have when it comes to seeking professional help. Their slogan ‘depression is an illness, not a weakness’ is written on every page of their website and serves as a reminder that sufferers should not suffer in isolation. The Farming Community Network is another such organisation doing vital support work for farmers and families within the farming community. Their network of over 400 volunteers across England and Wales, many of whom are involved in farming, or have close links with agriculture have a great understanding of the issues farm workers and farming families regularly face. And finally The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution is a welfare charity that offers long-term financial support to farming people in times of hardship.

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