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Farmers face ‘holy trinity of chaos’, East Anglian conference hears

PUBLISHED: 15:45 07 December 2018 | UPDATED: 08:41 10 December 2018

ARC conference from left, Jamie Gwatkin, Oliver McEntyre, Neil Featherstone, Jane Townsend, Alan Fisher, Ben Crossman and Richard Rampton  Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

ARC conference from left, Jamie Gwatkin, Oliver McEntyre, Neil Featherstone, Jane Townsend, Alan Fisher, Ben Crossman and Richard Rampton Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

Archant

Farmers and farming professionals across East Anglia got to grips with the ‘holy trinity of chaos’ facing the industry on Thursday (December 6) at an event in Newmarket.

Delegates at the Anglia Rural Consultants' conference  Picture: EMMA FINNDelegates at the Anglia Rural Consultants' conference Picture: EMMA FINN

Anglia Rural Consultants (ARC) chose ‘facing future challenges’ as the theme for its conference this year, looking at a wide range of issues from training to environmental schemes, with contributions from ARC consultants including Farmers’ Weekly Adviser of the Year 2016 Jamie Gwatkin and Neil Featherstone, as well as Easton and Otley College head Jane Townsend, and Barclays Bank’s national agricultural strategy director Oliver McEntyre.

Chairman of Suffolk Country Land and Business Association (CLA) Ben Crossman said the sector faced a ‘holy trinity of chaos’ - Brexit, the Agriculture Bill and the loss of farm subsidies.

“Clearly, we all know tomorrow is going to be very challenging,” said Mr Gwatkin, as he talked about how farmers should prepare. He spelt out how he felt farm businesses should be structured, amid the uncertainties. “What we do know is farming businesses are going to have to restructure,” he said. “If they continue to do what they do in a traditional way then they are going to struggle in the future.”

While every farm business was unique, each should be well balanced, he said, and split into its component parts, with farmers getting a tight grip on issues such as cost of production, crop rotations, and managing pests, weeds and disease.

Jamie Gwatkin speaking at the Anglia Rural Consultants' conference  Picture: EMMA FINNJamie Gwatkin speaking at the Anglia Rural Consultants' conference Picture: EMMA FINN

“I do not believe that the consumer will support UK farmers,” he warned. “I believe we need to look at other crop avenues in addition to growing crops for food.”

Mr McEntyre said that whatever challenges the sector faced, the way a bank lends money and supports businesses, will not change. “It’s about demonstrating the ability of the business to repay the debt, while a strong security package reduces risk. As does having a Plan B, should the project not go to plan.”

Ms Townsend urged farmers to be flexible. “We are in the midst of an agricultural revolution. The need has never been greater since the 1950s to provide skills for the future of farming, because of the challenges we face through the Brexit agricultural policy. We are developing the criteria and model to deliver this.”

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