South of England Farming Conference & Forum 2017

Evolution or revolution? The next 50 years

Speakers at the South of England Agricultural Society’s Farming Conference debated whether revolution or evolution is the solution to the future of British farming on Wednesday 15 November at the South of England Showground in Ardingly.

Leading lights in British agriculture looked at the changes that have taken place over the last 50 years in agriculture, before debating what the next 50 years might look like, with an audience of over 250 farmers, landowners and agriculturalists from across the region.

“The South of England Agricultural Society is 50 years old this year and over this time, agriculture and the rural industries have seen significant change, in fact some would say that over the last 50 years we have already witnessed a revolution in farming,” said Duncan Rawson, a Nuffield Scholar sponsored by the Society and this year’s Conference Organiser.

“We have seen incredible technological changes over the last five decades, from the development of crop chemistry and precision farming to the arrival of the Internet and mobile technology. Remarkable advances in technology and massive increases in productivity have shifted the social fabric of our rural communities. The world has become smaller and more global, yet we have experienced rapid population growth and a consumer that is increasingly concerned about how their food is grown. Climate change is likely to have a major impact on many aspects of our lives and there is a new generation of millennials who communicate and interact in ways we could never have imagined even a decade ago. This opens up the debate about the next 50 years. What challenges and opportunities will we be facing ahead? What sort of future do we want for our industry?”

Discussions from the expert panel of speakers were opened by three generations from the same family, Allan, Peter and Chris Appleton, who have farmed in Arlington in East Sussex since 1947. They set the scene, describing the last 50 years of dairy farming in Sussex and how, whilst there has been a 60 per cent decrease in the number of dairy farms in the UK, their farm has grown enormously largely thanks to new technology over the past few decades.

David Wilson, LVO, Farm Manager at Duchy Home Farm at Highgrove, an exemplar for organic production methods, said that sustainable farming was the future, sharing tips on crop rotation, composting, the importance of taking care of soil, including revealing how useful sheep can be to improve ground for crops. He made a strong point about cheap food being subsidised by farmers and being taken for granted by consumers, which he sees as the reason people in the UK waste over 7 million tonnes of food each year.

Next on the stage was Peter Kendall, a fifth generation arable farmer from Eyeworth, East Bedfordshire, who was President of the NFU for eight years and has been Chairman of The Agriculture and Horticulture Board since 2014. He set out three scenarios as a result of Brexit: Evolution, Unilateral liberalisation or Fortress Britain and asked how do we look forward to the challenges that come from each of these scenarios? He concluded that we need to challenge farmers to look at what they are doing and compare this with the competition in other countries and make sure we are doing the best we can do.

A Technical Forum was held during the afternoon before the conference, inviting active and progressive farmers and students to learn more about ‘soil and grassland management for profitable agriculture’. Presenters included soil scientist Stephen Briggs, Rod Bonshor, general manager for Oliver Seeds and Oliver Hall, co-founder and director of Evolution Farming.

With thanks to our generous sponsors

Lloyds Bank; Richard Place Dobson LLP; South East Business Systems Ltd; Mayo Wynne Baxter; CLM

And thanks to our media sponsor:

South East Farmer –