Ed Reyes, Promar International
On 1st November, the National Farm Management Conference was held by the Institute of Agricultural Management in the QE II Centre in London. A record number of more than 400 members of the IAGRM, friends and guests attended.
The main theme of the event was the topic “Agriculture's Defining Decade: Balanceing Food & Environmental Security".
The event featured a wide variety of speakers, including Lord Deben (the Chair of the Climate Change Committee and former Minister of Agriculture and Environment Secretary), Minette Batters (President, National Farmers Union), Sophie Throup (Head of Agriculture, Fisheries & Sustainable Sourcing, Morrison Supermarkets) and Steve Maxwell (CEO, Worldwide Fruit) to name a few .
Despite the different background and areas of interest across the speakers, some of their observations displayed strong areas of similarity. Amongst these were as follows:
- the whole of the UK society, and not least, the agricultural sector is going through a period of huge change. The whole supply chain needs to adapt to new market conditions, although the harsh reality is that it is difficult and presents many challenges. For some though, it will present opportunities of course too
- some of the changes being experienced in the sector today are a consequence of factors which have been impacting on farmers for some years already. The effect of climate change is making agricultural production more difficult and uncertain, as an example. More recent issues are Brexit, the COVID pandemic and then the conflict in Ukraine
- these however have all had an impact on important areas to farming such as labour, production inputs (e.g. fertilizers/energy), logistics and then widespread disruption in the supply chain
- this is challenging the position of the UK’s food security and has brought agriculture and its role in society to the forefront of the debate on this. It needs to be as a result, a key fundamental issue for the new government. New legislation is expected to bring positive change to the agricultural sector and address our high reliance on imports
- any efforts, however to improve our food security, must have sustainability as its central axis. This is not only about the environment, but has a multidimensional component that also includes important social factors such as development, health and culture
- when talking about the UK and its net zero carbon policies, the challenges include having a common language to be used, to establish a baseline of the current environmental conditions and set realistic objectives that can be measured to evaluate the success of the new practices/strategies. Although there is encouraging progress in the UK, this is not consistent across the 4 individual countries
- to achieve sustainability goals, improve food security and improve current market conditions requires collaboration across the full supply chain. The government must also provide a clear policy and framework on which producers, processors, retailers and consumers can make well informed decisions
- the consumer also has a responsibility and needs to be aware how their decisions affect the environment, but they must have the tools to help make better/more informed decisions (i.e. labelling/provenance, etc). For this to happen, science, industry and politics must work closely together
- although the immediate panorama of the sector is at times, uncertain, there is a huge range of opportunities too. These include the possibility of extra profit for farmers/farm managers with the use of natural capital. This though is a subject relatively unknown. It is still complex even in some basic areas, such as how it is defined, who owns it, who will pay for it and how rural/farming communities can eventually benefit
- technology has major role in helping to solve the dual challenges of food security and sustainability, but this must not be seen as displacing traditional agriculture, but complementing the good practices and improvements already seen in the farming industry
This event was an excellent opportunity for all parts of the UK agriculture sector to get together to discuss current problems, share experiences and propose new strategies for an industry currently facing different challenges, but also many new opportunities too. We should be congratulating the Institute of Agricultural Management for the organisation of this successful event.
Is this agriculture’s defining decade – it looks if it might well be. Getting the balance between food and environmental security will be at the centre of this and the truth is that we actually need and must find a way of achieving both.
Ed Reyes is a Consultant with Promar International, the consulting arm of Genus plc and works across the value chain on assignments, at the moment, in the UK, US, Colombia, South Africa and the EU. Promar is a long term supporter of IAgrM National Farm Management Conference going back over 20 years.