LONDON Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, has made a fresh appeal for more organic farming, insisting his approach was based on science rather that "a quirk" and dismissing those who would prefer he keeps his opinions private.
Charles, who turns 65 this week, has often voiced strong views on the environment, architecture and social affairs, a stance that contrasts sharply with his mother, Queen Elizabeth, who never reveals her thoughts on such matters.
The prince came under scrutiny this summer when it was revealed he had held 36 meetings with government ministers since the Conservative-led coalition took power in 2010, up 13 from the same period of the last Labour government. Critics said it showed he enjoyed undue political influence.
But the criticism has not deterred Charles from speaking out and in an article for Country Life magazine published on Wednesday, he voiced concerns about modern farming and the lack of young people choosing life on the land.
"The pressure from global competition, the effects of climate change and the spiralling costs of fuel and feed only add to the difficulty," he wrote.
"Our ash trees are under threat and so, too, our bee population ... At the same time, we are not farming in a way that enables nutrients to return to the soil naturally. And this matters."
"We should acknowledge this rather than regard it as a quirk," said Prince Charles who converted his country estate, Highgrove in Gloucestershire, to organic farming in 1986.
"Science is fundamental if we are to make sustainable agriculture more productive, but I believe it is the combination of the best of traditional techniques with the best of modern knowledge that will make the difference we so urgently need."
The prince dismissed critics who suggested his patronage of a trust to conserve native rare breeds of farm animals was "some sort of romantic attachment to a bygone age".
"My reasons are rooted in hard-nosed science," he said, arguing that the preservation of these breeds and their genes could be crucial to sustainable farming.
But Charles' decision to publicly argue for his favourite causes while in a constitutional role with no practical political power was not welcomed by all.
Columnist Oliver Kamm of the Times newspaper said Charles' position insulated him from the scrutiny "his weird ideas ought to get". Kamm praised the queen and her grandson Prince William for not voicing their views as they conducted official duties.
"That's the right balance in an hereditary monarchy," Kamm said.
(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)