Major farming conference will explore how to succeed amid Brexit upheaval
PUBLISHED: 06:48 13 February 2020 | UPDATED: 07:03 13 February 2020
The 2020 Norfolk Farming Conference will bring hundreds of farmers to Norwich today to discuss how this crucial industry can thrive during a time of fundamental change after Brexit.
For many farmers, the choice between specialising or diversifying their business is a difficult one.
But with seismic changes on the horizon, business leaders say there has never been a more important time to make the right strategic decisions - and to make best use of informed insight and advice.
So that will be the aim of this year's Norfolk Farming Conference, which takes place at the John Innes Centre on the Norwich Research Park.
Convened by AF Group - the largest agricultural buying group in the UK, formerly known as Anglia Farmers - this year's conference will focus on three main topics: Farming for the Future, "Diversify or Specialise?", and the Next Generation.
Brexit brings some of the industry's biggest changes for a generation, with a shake-up of financial support structures as the UK phases out the EU's subsidies, plus a renewed drive to meet environmental and climate change targets, while concerns remain over how future trade deals will affect the competitiveness of Britain's food producers.
To address these uncertainties and explore the opportunities for Norfolk farmers, the conference features a wide range of perspectives from expert speakers including agricultural business leaders, economists, opinion formers, machinery manufacturers and conservationists.
AF Group chief executive Jon Duffy said: "Agriculture is about to go through some of the most significant changes it has seen for generations. Our exit from Europe and the new Agriculture Bill means farmers need to be as knowledgeable and prepared as possible so they can adapt and grasp the opportunities that will come their way.
"The Norfolk Farming Conference has put together a great line up of speakers from across the industry which will help inform, educate and inspire delegates. As we take the first steps into a new decade, I am excited by what is on offer for our industry and I am proud that the Norfolk Farming Conference is yet again supporting farmers with another fantastic day of debate, ideas and insight."
Charles Whitaker, managing partner of one of the event sponsors Brown and Co, added: "We are approaching a big change in agriculture and we have got people lined up from the National Trust talking about alternative land uses and reverse carbon auctions, and getting our heads around what that means.
"I think that is quite innovative and interesting, especially considering the challenge we have all got after this wet autumn - making money out of commodity crops is not straightforward, given the commodity prices we have got.
"Peter Kendall [chairman of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board] will be talking about this industry accepting where we are on the global competitiveness and efficiency scale, and recognising what we are good at and where we can get better.
"I don't think we are exaggerating - there has never been a more important time to discuss these issues, and to listen. This is a massive change for agriculture in the UK. Some of it will be challenging and some of it will bring opportunities."
KEY CONFERENCE SPEAKERS
Session one: Farming for the Future
- Guy Smith - Conference chairman and deputy president of the National Farmers' Union (NFU).
- Sir Peter Kendall - Chairman of the AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board).
- Patrick Begg and Paul Forecast -Directors for the National Trust.
- Doug Field - Chairman of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership.
- Melinda Raker - Founder of the YANA (You Are Not Alone) Project, providing confidential mental health support for the farming and rural communities.
Session two: Diversify or Specialise?
- Dr Francisco Areal - Senior lecturer in agricultural economics.
- Crister Stark - Chairman of farm machinery business Väderstad.
- David Hoyles - Director of GH Hoyles farm.
Session three: The Next Generation
- Will Sargent - Farmer and journalist, including regular columns for Farmers Weekly.
- Andrew Greenwell - Director at Capel St Andrew Farms.
- Brian Barker - Farmer at Lodge Farm, AHDB's first Strategic Farm for Cereals and Oilseeds in the UK.
The 2020 Norfolk Farming Conference takes place at the John Innes Conference Centre on February 13. For more information and see the Norfolk Farming Conference website.