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How To Convince A Farmer To Accept A Gift Horse

farmers agriculture see through carbon pilot 6 tv reality game show gift horse carbon audit

Why See Through Carbon is deploying a reality game show format to induce farmers into participating in its agricultural pilot scheme

The gift horse distribution business is a much tougher game than you might think. Farmers, naturally sceptical of anything that sounds too good to be true, present a unique challenge – here’s an innovative solution – a reality TV game show.

The Voluntary-to-Mandatory Spectrum

See Through Carbon’s seven pilots have very different scopes; 

Why so many pilots?

One factor is technical. We may all be made of carbon, and everything we do may be linked by carbon, but different areas of human endeavour present particular technical challenges when it comes to accurately measuring their emissions footprints. 

Agriculture, for example, has unique opportunities for carbon ‘insetting’ (like offsetting except you control it in-house) – a farmer can recycle waste into biofuel or fertiliser, a plumber can’t. Farmers can plant trees themselves, rather than pay middle-men to promise to pay distant poor brown people to plant trees, like most ‘carbon offsetting’ schemes

Or take textiles, an unusually water-intensive industry. Water, and the energy used to get it in the right place, is embedded in its raw materials (like cotton) and its processes (like mercerisation). This inflates the water component of textile businesses’ Scope 2 calculations (indirect emissions from utilities) far more than, say, a restaurant or car dealership, a feature which the See Through Carbon standard should incorporate.

But motivation is another factor. This is most easily determined by understanding where a particular sector currently stands on the Voluntary-to-Mandatory spectrum.

‘Selling’ participation in a pilot to accurately measure carbon is a relatively easy if the candidates know they have to in order to comply with government regulation, harder if it’s currently voluntary, and harder still if it’s nor not yet even on their radar.

By and large, the smaller the business, the closer it lies towards the Voluntary end of the spectrum. The larger the business, the closer it is to the Mandatory end.

Gift Horse Distribution

See Through Carbon’s pilots constitute a stable of gift horses, in that they all offer free carbon auditing and consulting worth thousands of pounds, for free. 

When developing a strategy for approaching potential candidates, STC first needs to consider where the particular target participants lie on the Voluntary-to-Mandatory continuum:

  • Already Here: For Pilot 3 (Global/Industry) and Pilot 5 (UK/local government), mandatory carbon reporting is already in place. 
  • About To Arrive: For Pilot 4 (UK/Health Services) and Pilot 7 (Global/Textiles), compulsory carbon reporting is about to arrive, or has just arrived. 
  • On The Way: For Pilot 1 (Wiltshire/SMEs) and Pilot 6 (Global/Agriculture), voluntary requirements are rapidly turning into regulatory requirements, and for Pilot 2 (Live Music) no one has yet even written the rule book, let alone started requiring bands, venues & promoters to apply it. 

Already Here businesses don’t need lessons in rudimentary carbon accounting, Carbon Reduction Plans (CRPs) or the challenge of accurate Scope 3 reporting They’re already dealing with them on a daily basis. Indeed, multinationals started approaching STC, unsolicited, as soon as STC’s website went live. Global businesses may be fussy about stabling new horseflesh, but they know a gift horse when they see one.

But before assessing a gift horse, you must first know you need a horse. 

Most About To Arrive and On The Way businesses are Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) still operating in a horse-free environment. Convincing busy, beleaguered SMEs, struggling to stay afloat with limited resources, to voluntarily try a free carbon audit and consultancy scheme when no one has yet told them they have to, isn’t straightforward. Even telling them if it would otherwise cost thousands of pounds is less impactful if it’s not yet compulsory.

This requires STC to find different ways to engage small businesses. For Pilot 1, STC exploits sibling See Through News’s network of local community Facebook groups, offering SMEs free advertising in areas whey. STN’s Notice Board groups have particularly high existing levels of local SME engagement.

Pilot 6 (Global Agriculture), however, presents a different challenge. 

  • Farmers don’t advertise in local Facebook groups. 
  • Farmers tend to be particularly wary of newfangled things.
  • Farmers, therefore, require STC to come up with a bespoke approach…

So STC called upon another sibling network, See Through Together.  

Just as See Through News focuses on leveraging the free infrastructure of the world’s #1 social media platform, Facebook, to engage large numbers of Unwilling Inactivists on a budget of zero, See Through Together focuses on the second-biggest social media platform, YouTube.

The Thing About Farmers

See Through Carbon isn’t the first to grapple with the particular challenge presented by communicating with farmers.

Farmers, used to dealing with elements beyond their control like the weather, and politicians, tend to be sceptical, if not cynical about new initiatives. They also need to be observant, aware of their surroundings, and shrewd. Farming involves a certain amount of repetitive work, leaving plenty of time for background processing and reflection. In short, a tough crowd.

As Britain re-built itself for a post-colonial age following WW2, the BBC was tasked with finding a way of conveying technological and political agricultural developments to farmers in an effective, engaging, entertaining way.

The BBC’s solution made radio history. The Archers, first broadcast in 1950 and still on air today, wove the Ministry of Agriculture’s wishlist of facts and information into ‘an everyday story of country folk’ , becoming a British institution, and the world’s longest-running drama.

The Archers audience reached well beyond Britain’s farmhouses. Its theme tune has become embedded in the consciousness of generations of ordinary British people, and has long been a reliable punchline for British comedians. 

The Archers’ remarkable and enduring longevity can be traced to the BBC Drama Department’s ingenuity in finding a medium that used old-school storytelling tricks to bypass farmers’ conservative instincts. 

Over the centuries, being wary of change, relying on the old ways, and resisting newfanglery, while keeping a weather eye out for proven new ideas, served farmers well, until climate change suddenly accelerated environmental changes that once unfolded over millennia, into taking place over decades.

Smuggling new carbon-busting ideas by concealing them in a radio soap opera set in a familiar world was, and remains, a remarkably effective way of reaching communities that are remote, or not otherwise exposed to certain message or ideas.

The Archers storytelling trick has been emulated many times in different contexts.

Before the Taliban regained control of Aghanistan, themes of female emancipation were embedded into popular radio plays. In post-Communist Mongolia, radio dramas introduced nomadic yak-herders to the notion of diversifying from livestock and dairy to grow arable crops, to combat malnutrition.

So, reasoned See Through Together when challenged by STC to come up with a way of inducing farmers to participate in Pilot 6, why not try a reality TV game show?

Aided by See Through News articles on 

See Through Together’s team of TV industry, digital marketing and advertising veterans came up with Betting The Farm.

Pilot filming has already started. The first results will soon be available when the See Through Together YouTube channel launches in the second quarter of 2024. To see and give feedback on early video edits, subscribe to the See Through News Newsletter.

After taking expert advice, and testing it on various farmers, the STT production team is drafting a guide to recruiting potential Betting The Farm candidates from sceptical farming families.

Their challenge is to persuade suspicious farmers to spend an hour or so of their busy day to gather in their farmhouse kitchen, and be filmed talking to each other on themes prompted by a video that will be played to them. 

If this all sounds a bit vague, you’ve grasped the nature of the challenge…

  1. Get the farming family to agree to be filmed
  2. Tell them as little as possible about the Betting The Farm Deal, to maintain the surprise
  3. Be frank, responsive, and honest about everything that doesn’t emperil 2)

Here’s STT’s cold-calling advice to its producers, in the form of…what could be more appropriate?…a radio play…

How To Convince A Farmer To Accept A Gift Horse: a 1-act radio drama

ANNOUNCER: And now, the first episode of our new drama, How To Convince A Farmer To Accept A Gift Horse. Dennis Hogget, a dairy farmer from the West Country, is in the barn giving his cows their evening feed, when his phone rings…


[FX: barnyard noises. Cattle lowing. Hay being scattered.]

FARMER HOGGETT (talking to himself and the cows, as is his habit): There you go, girls, munch away. The ground’s drying up, the days are getting longer, and it won’t be long before you’re back in pasture and you can stretch your legs properly.

[FX: muffled mobile phone rings a couple of times, after a rustling of clothes, it is cut off mid-ring]

FARMER HOGGETT (warily): Who’s this?

STT PRODUCER (brightly): Is this Dennis Hoggett?

FARMER HOGGETT (still wary): Speaking.

STT PRODUCER (warm, but not too chummy): Oh good. My name’s Ed, from See Through Productions. Jim Calf over at Manor Farm gave me your number. They told me you and your family do arable and dairy, is that correct?

FARMER HOGGETT (slightly less wary): That’s right. 

STT PRODUCER: Jim mentioned you’re both in the same consortium that share a combine harvester, and she’s a real beauty.

FARMER HOGGETT (clanking a bucket as he talks): You’re not wrong there – Ed was it?

STT PRODUCER: That’s right, Ed Swann from See Through Productions. I know you’re busy, but after we did some filming with Jim the other day for a documentary pilot we’re making, he mentioned you might be interested in taking part too. Jim might have mentioned it to you, but when we filmed them a couple of weeks back they said they found it interesting and fun, and reckoned you might enjoy it too.

FARMER HOGGETT (bucket clanking now stops): Jim did say something about filming, yes, but I’m not quite sure what it was all about.

STT PRODUCER (laughs): Ah yes, we swore Jim and his family to secrecy about some of the details – and if you do get filmed yourself you’ll understand why. Basically, we’re trying a new approach to making documentaries about farming. 

FARMER HOGGETT (guarded): Oh yes? Like what?

STT PRODUCER: We reckon people are getting more interested in where are food comes from, and there’s quite a lot of it on TV these days, like [long-running BBC magazine show on rural themes] Countryfile and [celebrity-fronted farming ‘reality’ TV series] Clarkson’s Farm.

FARMER HOGGETT (with some fervour): I can’t stand that Countryfile any more – it’s all about the presenters these days, and they seem more concerned about saving beetles and keeping the countryside pretty than growing food. Don’t mind that Clarkson’s Farm, though. He can be a bit of a knob but he does raise the right issues.

STT PRODUCER: Very interesting to hear what you think, as a proper farmer. The fact that these shows are so popular suggests the public does have a genuine interest in farming, but we too find Countryfile quite superficial. Clarkson’s Farm might be better at raising the real issues facing farmers, but in the end it’s an entertainment show, presented by someone who’s not a real farmer, and for whom the stakes are not real – unlike you. If Clarkson stuffs things up, he gets better ratings – if you stuff things up, you could go out of business.

FARMER HOGGETT (bitterly): You can say that again. Two of my neighbours have given up and retired in the past three years, and it’s getting harder every day, what with the weather, and the new government regulations, and all the new green rules…

STT PRODUCER: These are exactly the kind of things we’re trying to explain to the public. Our pilot is trying to find a way to address real farming issues that doesn’t trivialise them, but is still entertaining and compelling. Our new twist is that instead of non-farmers interviewing farmers, or presenters pretending to be farmers – or even non-farmer journalists interviewing farmers – we want to simply eavesdrop on farmers talking to other farmers and hear what they say to each other. We’ve developed a fun way of doing this, which Jim loved, and thought you might like too.

FARMER HOGGETT (cautiously): What’s involved?

STT PRODUCER: We know you’re busy people, so our crew will come to your farm, and be gone within an hour. All we need is for whatever family members are involved in running the farm – Jim tells me you run it with your wife Marge and children Daisy and Rick – is that right?

FARMER HOGGETT: That’s right. I handle the arable and livestock with Rick, Marge does the milking, Daisy does the books and runs the barn we hire out for events, like weddings and such…

STT PRODUCER: Perfect. If we can find a time when you’re all in the farmhouse at the same time, we’ll arrange for a crew to come and film you all sitting at the kitchen table, while you watch a video, and discuss it among yourselves. 

FARMER HOGGETT: Is it really only going to be an hour. The last time a film crew came here, we spend the whole day doing things over and over again for them…

STT PRODUCER: Guaranteed, an hour max. We can set it all up in about 15 minutes. The filming doesn’t take more than half an hour or so – the video is only a few minutes long, so it really depends how much time you spend talking to each other about it. If there’s time at the end, we may also film a few minutes of you doing something outdoors nearby, to introduce you and your farm. That’s it!

FARMER HOGGETT (about to broach something uncomfortable): We could arrange that, I suppose, but, look, I’m going to ask a farmer question now, what’s…

STT PRODUCER (interrupting): …to pre-empt the perfectly reasonable question we usually get at this point, we assume you’d like to know ‘What’s in it for me?’.

FARMER HOGGETT (laughing, but still not conceding anything): Sounds like you’ve done this before then…

STT PRODUCER (also laughing): Indeed! We’ve spoken to enough farmers by now to answer the ‘What’s In It For Me’ question before you ask it –  or maybe you’re too polite to ask. The video we’ll play you at the kitchen table offers you a Deal, and explains exactly what you get in return for participating. We don’t want to reveal too much now, as part of the fun, for you, us and the audience, is to capture your real-time reactions, and family debate, as the Deal is revealed. Is that OK?

FARMER HOGGETT (intrigued, despite himself): Well, you can’t expect us to agree to something until we know what it’s all about.

STT PRODUCER: Exactly! That’s what the video does. It explains The Deal, and what you, we and the audience get out of it, in great detail. What we want to film is you and your family discussing whether or not to take it. We want to capture your spontaneous responses, which is why we’re being so mysterious about it.

FARMER HOGGETT: What if we don’t agree? You will have wasted all that crew time.

STT PRODUCER: Not at all. I should explain that you’re genuinely under no pressure whatsoever to accept or reject The Deal. We’re filming plenty of other farmers, and we only need some of them to agree. It’s absolutely fine if, after our first filming, you decide not to proceed with it. We’re just interested in what you and your family say, and the reasons you have for taking or rejecting The Deal.

FARMER HOGGETT (nearly there, but still not sure…): Well as long as you’re prepared for us to say no if we don’t like it…

STT PRODUCER: Really, that’s fine, it’s all built into the budget and we only need a few people to say yes. Jim did, and he reckons he’s saved himself thousands of pounds…

FARMER HOGGETT: He never mentioned that to me…

STT PRODUCER: Oops. I’ve said too much. If Jim kept his promise not to reveal The Deal, so should we.

FARMER HOGGETT: OK, I’m OK to give it a go, but I can’t speak for the rest of my family.

STT PRODUCER: Of course. Please have a word with them. If you’re all happy to give it a go, just let us know. We’ll add you to the list and will get in touch to arrange a date next time we have a crew in your area.


ANNOUNCER: Will Farmer Hoggett and his family agree to be filmed? Will they ever find out what this mysterious Deal is? Tune in next time, for Episode 2 of How To Convince A Farmer To Accept A Gift Horse…