Adam Henson on how a little expert knowledge can help communication

PUBLISHED: 16:12 04 September 2014 | UPDATED: 16:12 04 September 2014

Every week more than a million people listen to ‘Farming Today’. The early morning dip into the world of agriculture and rural affairs has been running on BBC Radio in one form or another (and under various names) since the 1930s.

A few weeks ago the programme visited me at home in the Cotswolds to record the Saturday edition of the programme on the subject of farmers and the media.

The presenter is an old friend and colleague, Charlotte Smith, but that didn’t stop her asking some tricky questions. In particular, Charlotte wanted to know if I thought farmers were becoming the new celebrity chefs. She asked it with a mischievous smile and for a split second I was stumped because I’d never call myself a celebrity. But it’s a clever question because it goes to the heart of the debate about how our industry communicates with the public.

Over the last decade or so, the TV channels and programme makers have recognised that it’s worth having presenters and reporters with a basic knowledge of their subject. So that means bakers demonstrating bread-making, former police officers fronting crime programmes, doctors hosting health shows and yes, even farmers talking about agriculture!

It gives them credibility and authority which goes a very long way in getting the message over. In the words of a famous antiques expert turned TV presenter; they’re the ‘real deal’. My own story goes back to 2001 when ‘Countryfile’ ran a competition to find a new presenter. After a bit of cajoling I eventually applied and to my total amazement got the job.

Despite travelling all over the UK and around the globe for the TV cameras in the last 13 years, I’m the first to admit that I don’t know everything about farming; far from it. But I hope my working life and the experience I’ve had in agriculture add something special to the items I present on BBC One every Sunday night.

I think Britain’s farming community has learnt that it needs to have a better rapport with the public. That’s done best when we communicate clearly and professionally. In the information age, it’s vital to tell the whole story because if we’re honest then viewers and listeners will be willing to share our lows with us, just as much as our highs.

Of course it’s a difficult balancing act between satisfying already well-informed farmers and alienating the general audience with agricultural jargon. But we’re gradually dispelling the old image of the overworked, underpaid farmer leaning on his five-bar gate whinging. More and more people now know that modern farming is a progressive, exciting business full of great get-up-and-go individuals.

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