In farming we tend to be very reticent about engaging with pressure groups (NGOs) with a single interest focus, for some the very mention of the RSPB sees a red mist descend, obliterating any form of reason. But are organisations like Compassion in World Farming and The Friends of the Earth a threat or an opportunity for our industry? I'd argue that we need to challenge ourselves on this point.
By their very nature, single interest groups champion a very narrow spectrum of causes. Their actions and rhetoric are emotive, powerful and effective with a host of target audiences including the public, politicians and the media. Many are also very well financed and resourced. To think that we can't improve our partnerships with selected groups is a missed opportunity. But to do so on our terms and for our gain takes dialogue, it takes care and it takes common ground.
If British agriculture was being savvy, it would seek to better understand and actively engage with pressure groups where their ethos or activities match our needs or goals. Equally it is essential to identify those that need the industry's robust and intelligent rebuttal.
Take groups like Compassion in World Farming (CIWF). It is extreme in its campaigning against 'factory farming', but there has been merit in some of their activities for example they have had a role in effecting the ban on veal crates and battery cages and no-one can fail but to be appalled by their secret filming of the pig beating seen in a British Abattoir. Nor would we have any issues with the campaigning that CIWF and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has undertaken to highlight the need for farmers to be paid a fair price for their produce - it is a cause we vehemently champion ourselves. Perhaps there is scope to campaign with these organisations for mutual gain.
The Ramblers Association has been a thorn in the side for some farmers having sparked some costly legal battles regarding rights of way. However their intent of encouraging responsible public access to the countryside could also be seen as a prime opportunity to improve walkers' understanding of farming and also potentially lucrative to diversified farm enterprises like farm shops and accommodation.
Through the Seafood Choices Alliance the fish industry has identified that pressure groups and industry bodies working together can achieve a great deal in addressing commonly shared issues like sustainability, environmental diligence and fisheries policy. These issues are no different to those faced by farming. Perhaps there is scope for farming to do the same with pressure groups sharing areas of common ground such as the RSPCA, the RSPB, CIWF and CPRE?
Pressure groups are very powerful in their influence and if nothing else a wider dialogue with more of them would give us the chance to challenge their arguments, but at its most powerful, dialogue could bring us some strong additional representation with policy-makers, the public and the media.