Distances astounds visitor

24 Dec, 2001 10:00 PM
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INTERNATIONAL agricultural exchange student Polly Britcher is astonished by the distances which separate neighbouring farmhouses in WA.

Polly has lived her 23 years in closely settled Kent; her parent's orchard only an hour's train ride from London.

The sparse population in WA's countryside and the size of its farms is, she says, mind blowing.

What else has she noticed about our farms when comparing them to those of her homeland?

"The absence of young women working on farms here is noticeable," Polly said.

"Farming here seems very male dominated. Where I come from young women are doing all sorts of farm jobs and there seems hardly any young men present," she said.

"Most farmer owners appear to be in their 50s and 60s in the UK. Young men go to agricultural colleges but they're more likely to go into agricultural contracting or industries supplying farm needs like chemicals and fertilisers, than take permanent farm jobs."

She said there is a strong movement in the area surrounding the family orchard to move into organic farming.

Mad cow disease and foot and mouth outbreaks have speeded up the change as the British public become more conscious of problems in animal production under intensive conditions.

Polly said she doesn't believe there's any benefit to consumers from eating organically produced foods which are far more expensive to buy, but it's hard to convince consumers of this.

"It isn't easy to become a registered organic farmer because it requires the farm to be isolated from other farms producing using conventional methods," Polly said.

While our farming landscape holds surprises for Polly Britcher, she has brought astonishment to the faces of many farmers she has met here. She relates her parents experiences as apple growers.

"My parents grew hops, wheat and apples. The hop prices collapsed and the industry in Kent was virtually destroyed," she said.

"Most of our 100 acre farm was apple orchard. Now Holland, France and Germany supplies almost all England's apple needs.

"We go through all the routines of producing an apple crop then we pick them and just dump all the fruit in a heap in the field to let them rot.

"We are paid a compensatory grant by the government to maintain the orchard while Europe floods our market."

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