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Who Dares Wins... Norfolk farmers urged to adopt an SAS attitude

Frontier Agriculture managing director Mark Aitchison (centre) with other speakers at the 3D Thinking seminar at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. Picture: Chris Hill

Frontier Agriculture managing director Mark Aitchison (centre) with other speakers at the 3D Thinking seminar at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. Picture: Chris Hill

Chris Hill

Norfolk farmers should adopt the attitude of the SAS if they want victory on the post-Brexit business battlefield, said the boss of one the nation’s biggest farming companies.

Frontier Agriculture's 3D Thinking seminar at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. Picture: Chris HillFrontier Agriculture's 3D Thinking seminar at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. Picture: Chris Hill

Mark Aitchison managing director of agronomy and grain marketing firm Frontier Agriculture, was speaking at the firm’s 3D Thinking conference at the John Innes Centre in Norwich.

While political events at Westminster this week have done little to ease the uncertainty in an industry largely regulated and subsidised by the EU, he said there was a simple philosophy which could drive success regardless of Brexit – one which he borrowed from the special forces.

He said he developed a fascination with the SAS (Special Air Service) after a school-friend had become an officer, and he now believes the elite army unit’s famed motto of “Who Dares Wins” could inspire the agricultural industry too.

“The founder of the regiment was Sir David Stirling and the qualities he put forward for an SAS soldier were: character and skill, imagination, selfless courage, the desire to achieve and endurance – qualities that we need in this industry, in farming, where there is so much concern,” he said.

“I always thought Who Dares Wins was about courage, about stretching on the battlefield, but actually it is not about courage, it is about ambition.

“It is about having the imagination to think of a challenge in a different way, and being able to take it on and turn the challenges of the battlefield into the opportunities for victory.

“I think Who Dares Wins in that context is very relevant to where we find ourselves today.”

Mr Aitchison said farming’s current challenges could be grouped into four industry “megatrends”, which were introduced at the previous year’s conference: Price volatility, lifting the yield plateau, biodiversity and succession.

READ MORE: The four ‘mega-trends’ facing East Anglia’s farmers

Other speakers at the event discussed the efforts to address those challenges.

James Moldon, head of technical services, outlined the innovations that could bring about the “fourth agricultural revolution” described by environment secretary Michael Gove earlier this month. They include advances in crop genetics to grow next-generation sugar beet and gluten-free barley, trials of new seed treatments and insecticides to replace banned chemicals like neonicotinoids, new techniques using bio-fumigation and nitrogen inhibitors, alternative protein crops like lupins to replace imported soya, and technological developments to interpret the spiralling streams of crop data from drones and satellites in “near real time”.

Edward Downing, crop nutrition technical manager, explored ways to maximise nitrogen fertiliser application rates to get the most out of a crop while limiting environmental damage from leaching or ammonia emissions.

And Frontier’s head of innovation knowledge exchange David Robinson discussed the findings of variety and disease resistance trials across the company’s 13,000 trial plots at 29 development and demonstration sites across the county, including at Honingham Thorpe Farms outside Norwich.

Meanwhile Richard Barnes, sales manager for specialist crop supplier Kings, spoke about the need to assess all of a farm’s assets to see how they could attract valuable stewardship funding under the government’s Natural Capital agenda.

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