Plough Sunday

On Sunday I attended a special service at Chichester Cathedral for ‘Plough Sunday', to give thanks for the work of farmers.  The origins of the service can be traced to medieval times, when it was traditionally celebrated in January to mark the beginning of the agricultural year.

An old plough was processed through the City and into the Cathedral - harking back to the days when the communal village plough was brought to the village church to be blessed.

This service also gave thanks for the work of the National Farmers' Union, marking its centenary in West Sussex, and the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, celebrating its 150th year anniversary.

The organisation was set up to help needy people in the farming community - entitling them to £40 per annum for married couples and 1.5 tons of coal.

Today RABI helps those who have less than £10,000 in savings.  Currently they support around 1,500 long-term beneficiaries with nearly £2 million in grants - a reminder that one in four English farmers live below the official poverty line.

The Bishop of Horsham preached an enlightened sermon about the enduring value of agriculture today, and we heard a reading from Deuteronomy where Moses promises that "God is bringing you into a good land ... with flowing streams ... a land of wheat and barley ... where you may eat bread without scarcity."

It was all highly topical as we debate how, when we cannot properly feed 6.8 billion people today, we will feed the projected 9 billion global population in four decades' time.

This week I also travelled to Birmingham to the Soil Association conference.  Organic farmers have long believed in the need to manage the land sustainably and not to deplete natural resources.

But if all farming went organic, we would produce even less food.  So the challenge is how we can raise production sustainably, in harmony with the environment.  There aren't any easy answers.  But we should begin by valuing agriculture again - as the Plough Sunday service reminded us.

Michelle Taylor