Charles Scott, Manager of the Farm Business Survey at Newcastle University writes:
A well attended conference got under way under the chairmanship of Newcastle graduate Robert Sullivan (Partner, Strutt and Parker Farming Department) with a strong opening speech from Allan Wilkinson; Head of Agriculture at HSBC. Allan impressed upon the conference the increasingly volatile global marketplace that UK producers must adapt to and warned of over reliance on a support regime under ever increasing budgetary constraints.
An inspirational delivery from Nuffield Scholar and Sussex dairy farmer Joe Delves followed with a strong focus on attitudinal and mindset approaches to farming.
The conference welcomed the Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who delivered a very upbeat and optimistic Keynote speech that covered progress and future action on TB control and eradication and hinted at future possibilities of policy devolvement from Brussels. The Secretary of State welcomed forthcoming European national food labeling - that would encourage greater consumption of domestic produce, and announced a new Countryside Stewardship Scheme (detailed in a later session delivered by the Regional Director of Natural England).
A technical delivery from Agricultural Engineer Tim Chaman followed the break. Tim extolled the virtues of Controlled Traffic Farming, where all vehicle wheelings are restricted to tramlines at all times - precision guided and working-width-compatible implements, on reducing soil compaction and consequential beneficial impacts on yields.
Local egg producer and 2013 Farmers Weekly Poultry Farmer of the Year Richard Tulip (Lintz Hall Farm) then presented the success story of the expansion of the family business to becoming the largest poultry farm in the North East with all the allied marketing, sponsorship and brand building activities that must go hand in hand with increasing farm output.
Following a splendid lunch, MD of Hexham & Northern Marts Robert Addison, chair for the afternoon sessions, introduced Rob Aubrook the North East Regional Director for Natural England. Rob outlined the details of the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme which will have 3 tiers, the highest of which will be similar to the current HLS scheme but would no longer need to be underpinned by ELS options. He recognised that in the past the relationship between farmers and Natural England was not always perfect but this is improving by taking farmers' opinions on board and working together to deliver the schemes' intended outputs.
Consultant and Adviser to the Agricultural Law Association Geoff Whittaker delivered a lighthearted and myth-busting view of various aspects of EU agricultural law, which can often, unnecessarily he says, provoke resentment and mistrust, but which are regularly the result of language interpretations and varying law codes across the member countries.
John Henderson (Branch President CLA Yorkshire)'s impassioned speech on the merits of Share farming followed. John could not understate the value of share farming agreements to both; allow an easier path to new entrants with limited access to capital, and facilitate an easier and more dignified exit for leavers from the industry.
The final delivery was from Lowther Estate Director of Farming and 2013 Farmers Weekly Farm Manager of the Year Richard Price. Richard outlined the Estate's farm strategy to return the farms to profitability in a sustainable and locally responsible manner, stressing the importance of teamwork and local engagement (with Estate tenants) in supply chains and business operations.
Following questions on the afternoon sessions the conference was closed and delegates encouraged to continue to review the day at the bar or over a splendid array of tea and sandwiches.