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Sheep may be the answer

Sheep can solve many of the problems an arable farmer faces and they are a low capital entry for young farmers starting their own business. However, while there are opportunities, changes in lamb export markets and farm support due to Brexit, and their impacts on profitability, need to be watched.

Interview

The concern regarding farming practices takes a controversial turn.

André Torre, a rural economy and sociology specialist, is the director of research at INRA. He works primarily on the issue of usage conflicts and neighborhood conflicts. Interview: Adrien Leroy

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Is there an increase in neighborhood conflicts between farmers and their neighbours?

We have been talking about conflicts between farmers and their neighbours for a long time. The statistics show that historically, there are relatively few of them. Farmers often mention that newcomers to the countryside complain about nighttime activities, and, in general do not understand much about farming practices. But these situations are rare in reality. Over the last few years, the number of documented disputes has remained stable. You need to put the problem into context. It is not between farmers and other residents of the area, but about use of the land. There, the degree of conflict is significant. In particular when people want to take ownership of this land, build houses, energy production infrastructure, motorways, etc. They need land, and often that is agricultural land.

You talk about the "myth of the conflict between farmers and newcomers to the countryside". Yet farmers often give speak about this conflict. Why is there this feeling?

We need to agree what the term conflict means". There may be some tensions, friction and resentments, but that only rarely evolves into a full dispute. When we are talking about a conflict, that is when someone goes to court, there are public demonstrations, or possibly violence. A conflict between newcomers to the countryside and farmers is talked about a lot in the media, simply because it makes for interesting articles and stories, but that doesn't reflect the reality of the numbers. With one exception, which is that for several years there has been a concern regarding certain farming practices, which is taking a controversial turn.

Can you explain?

Farmers have enjoyed a very good image, connected to the rural community, the land, etc. Part of this image is deteriorating. The view is also changing among the rural population. There is a feeling of the population being put in danger with regards to fertilisers and pesticides. We are seeing more and more frequent public demonstrations, attempts to gain media attention and court appeals that have to do with these subjects. That is something new. And I think that this new conflict is here to stay. There is an ever greater demand for information, and the public’s attention turns to new environmental and health issues. For example, a public focus is currently on air pollution, while the issue of soils is more of a debate among specialists. In my view, more and more attention will be paid to soil topic in future, and this is likely to bring new neighborhood problems with it.

How can conflicts in rural areas be de-escalated?

I have to say, unfortunately, that a real solution to these conflicts is something that is rare and difficult. We often see that when we want to solve them, they have an impact somewhere else. We end up with conflicts that never end, like in the case of the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport in France. The only viable approach, in my view, is to work proactively through negotiation and discussion. For example: if I want to open a farm with a 1,000 cows without informing the population, it is possible, or even likely, that I won't succeed. However, if you negotiate and lay the groundwork, it's possible to reach solutions through compromise.

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