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What did we learn at the East Midlands Farm Association Conference by John Giles, MIAgrM - Promar

Date Published: 18/01/2019


This event is held a week or so after what many see as the “main event” down in Oxford, but I have always been very impressed by the overall quality of the programme that Paul Wilson and his colleagues pull together year after year -  and the level of attendance.  I have always personally felt it could easily command a wider audience of the 100 or so who largely come from the Nottingham region.

Set on the excellent Sutton Bonington campus, the day had a rich range of speakers and plenty of time for that all important networking too – what more could you want?  Brexit as you might expect was a main theme across the day, with excellent speakers from the Irish Farmers Association, the AHDB, the NFU and one of Paul’s colleagues from Nottingham University, who had spent time working in Australia in the meat sector.

And, errrrr, me…...! 

It was interesting to note that while naturally, we all came at our individual presentations form a slightly different angle, there was a good deal in common too. This gave a nice, joined up feel to the day.

Some of the key points to come out of the day can be summarised as follows;

  • While Ireland’s agri foo sector exports to around 150 countries in the world, the UK is still a critical market for them and accounts, as examples for 50% of beef and dairy imports and up to 99% of mushroom exports. There has been a strong reliance on the UK since Ireland joined the EU at the same time (as the UK) in 1973 and the agri food sectors of both Ireland and the UK are tightly interwoven
  • At the same time, Ireland is looking to diversify its exports to other parts of the world, including Africa, the Middle East and maybe most of all SE Asia and China, but there is still a long way to go and a good deal of hard work to be done to build business in these regions
  • For Ireland, it is difficult to see too many positives to come from BREXIT, but issues such as the need for product authenticity, high quality, traceability, the power of social media and embracing the changes that might be bought about by climate change will not go away
  • With overall food self-sufficiency in the UK still only at c. 60%, there is still a lot to play for in the UK food market – for everyone!
  • The BREXIT negotiations have proved very difficult at times, not least because of the different stand points, messaging and communication styles that the UK and EU Commission have taken on this from the very start of the process - and the language used to describe these to each other at various times in the process
  • There are still numerous options that might define how BREXIT is finally played out,covering a deal with the EU, no deal, a possible extension to Article 50 etc. or even an end to the whole process - and while the whole issue is of key importance to the EU Commission, many of the individual member countries such as France, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Spain all have thier own domestic issues to deal with too
  • Whatever sort of BREXIT we end up with,the EU market will remain highly competitive to supply, there will be a need for UK companies to be able to add value to products in some way, there will be over time, less financial support to other EU farmers via the CAP and UK farmers need to really think about the future of their business, engage in bench marking, understand markets, customers and consumers and excel at people management
  • Ending up with a “no deal BREXIT” is critical to avoid and could see the UK trading with the EU on WTO terms, would see restrictions on labour and tariff reductions and severe pressure placed on all parts of the supply chain and pose a risk to the continuity of trade for many products
  • For future UK exports, countries such as the US, Oceania and those in SE Asia are all seen as attractive, but it recognised that these regions of the world are also significant producers and exporters in their own right - and provide considerably less financial support to their farming sectors
  • The new Agricultural Bill will ideally focus as much on the production of food, as it does the environment. It should support additional resilience in farming, the provision of public goods and services connected to agriculture, the protection of UK standards and multi annual financing agreements
  • In Australia, the agri food sector is increasingly export focused, with markets in SE Asia and China being prime importance for the future, although the US and the EU are also still seen as being potentially lucrative too.As a result of this, Australia has developed good skills in the art of trade negotiations etc
  • Australian farmers and food producers have learnt how to deal with the worst excesses of price volatility and the impact of climate change and have seen the benefits of strong, well funded generic promotion in their own domestic market. They have also benefitted from investing in adding value to commodity products, in high standards of animal welfare, free range production and product innovation. Most Australian agri food sectors also benefit from having highly concentrated and integrated processing sectors to take advantage of economies of scale

These were just some of the points from the day that struck me of interest - but there were many more of course too! Well done Paul Wilson for organising such a good and enjoyable day. And well done the East Midlands Farm Management Association and to the Institute of Agricultural Management who support this event too. I am already looking forward to seeing what the line up of speakers for next year is!