Last week I attended the East of England Farming Conference which was held at the East of England Showground near Peterborough. For a farming conference with such an established sounding name you might be surprised that it is only a few years old, with this event only the fourth to take place in its history. Nonetheless it had all the gravitas of a more established conference as well as the fresh relaxed atmosphere of an event in its youth.
The theme – ‘Fit For the Future’ – was designed to encourage delegates to understand, embrace and adapt to the inevitable changes that the farming sector will face in the coming years. Over lunch I sat down with the Conference Chair Tom Martin and Emily Norton, Head of Rural Research at Savills, and I began by asking them to comment on the theme itself:
For more interview snippets keep a look out for an upcoming episode of Meet the Farmers which will be all about the East of England Farming Conference.
For me, some of the most exciting speakers were the farmers and practitioners most of whom came from the region itself. Brian Barker, who farms in Suffolk with his cousin Patrick, gave delegates a comprehensive introduction to the trials work he has been undertaking on farm, as part of the AHDB Strategic Farm Programme, especially with regards to drain sampling and nitrogen application. Stephen Jones of the British Quinoa Company explained how he had taken a little known seed (technically a seed, not a grain, according to the BQC website) and developed it into a relatively well known rotational option for British arable growers. Emily and Guy French from near Colchester in Essex showed how a bit of direct marketing nouse can go a long way, through the development of their pumpkin and Christmas tree business from humble beginnings just a few years ago. Mike Shapland of James Foskett Farms, who incidentally was Farmers Weekly Farm Manager of the Year 2018, gave delegates a really useful insight into how he manages risk in his business, also providing some memorable quotes, including one from Jimmy Carter – ”Go out on a limb – that’s where the fruit is”. I could go on, but for now will simply congratulate the organisers on sourcing a good range of respected speakers who had interesting things to say.
We cannot get away from the fact that there will surely be challenging times ahead for farmers but I am glad to see that the vast majority of farmers who I speak to are more than up to the challenge and willing to embrace change rather than shy away from it. The road is likely to be bumpy but British ag will survive and adapt.
Thank you Tom and Ruth for having me along for the day and all the delegates who took the time to speak to me.