Quick Report on Sentry Conference and general catch up post

Sunday afternoon has arrived and I’ve finally been able to sit down to settle into writing a blog post. I can’t quite believe how quickly this winter has been ticking along and although I’m quite far through my list of winter tasks on the farm the end isn’t quite in sight. Last week there was a lot of planting and hedging to be done, as well as chainsawing in some of the countryside stewardship plots.

I’ve also started extending our small apple orchard. It already has quite a lot of old cider varieties in it (Cornish Aromatic, Norfolk Royal, Morgan Sweet, Norfolk Beefing, Grey Pippin etc) but I’ve bought some eaters (as well as a few more cider varieties) to sell in the autumn at local markets. Mind you, at one or two years old, it’ll be a while before these particular trees have any fruit to show. As well as this site, I’ll also be establishing a brand new orchard elsewhere. With so many orchards having been scrubbed out in recent years it feels good to be extending one and establishing another.

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Extending the orchard at Walton Hall. Previously this field was covered in scrub. 

Midweek, work stopped to attend the Sentry conference which took place at Newmarket. Frinton Farm Partners, our arable contractors, are affiliated to the Sentry group of farms and so we attended as one of their clients. The programme was familiarly diverse, with speakers ranging from the Bishop of St Albans to a Kent farmer originally from Holland, a CEO of a risk management firm, a psychiatrist and the Head of Sustainability at Waitrose. Lots to think about!

A mention must first be made about the lunch however, which was delicious, and was, as usual, a good opportunity to network with other delegates, which at Sentry mostly means accountants and agronomists (I was seated with one of each at my table). Well done to the organisers, and to Ian Piggott for chairing the day. This was my first time at the Sentry Conference, but I now understand why it has gained such a good reputation over the years.

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One key theme that I came away with was the awareness that farming needs to become much better at public relations and telling the public in a meaningful way about the way that their food is produced (not as if I wasn’t already aware of this but it doesn’t hurt to keep talking about it). There is a lot that the industry already does, and twitter in particular is full of individual farmers doing some amazing things, not to mention events like LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday which draws thousands of general public onto farms each year. However, we can always do more. Podcasts are one way and between Will Evans’ Rock and Roll Farming, the Farmerama podcast and my own little offering of Meet the Farmers I think we are getting somewhere. Changing perceptions is going to take more than that however.

Another focus at the event, which was brilliant to see, was mental health in the farming community, with Dr Nick Broughton speaking to delegates about suicides, depression and other aspects of mental health. A lump came to my throat at times, with the stories and statistics that he presented. Even though I myself am aware of the issue, it hits hard each time you think of it.

Finally, and this isn’t really doing justice to the breadth of the event, a key focus was placed on supporting younger farmers. The Past President of CEJA (Conseil Européen des Jeunes Agriculteurs), Irishman Alan Jagoe, addressed the conference with some fantastic examples of younger farmers doing some exciting and innovative things. I was particularly glad to see that he didn’t just focus on conventional ag topics, but saw it fit to highlight enterprises as diverse as beekeeping, rice production and truffle farming, as well as dairy, beef, sheep and arable production. It wasn’t difficult to see some optimism in his words, making you think that the future for farming might not be quite so bleak as some might like to think it is.

As I write this, it is hailing and snowing outside; I hope not a sign of things to come next week. The to-do list isn’t getting any shorter, and I will update you again when I can. Highlight of next week (slightly terrifying at the same time) will probably be supporting my brother and playing trombone at Cambridge Junction on Friday night. Wish me luck!

Take care

Ben

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