National Farm Management Conference

'Managing Change for Success' - Royal Society, London


The delegates at the National Farm Management conference in London in February were left in no doubt about the need to embrace change to develop their businesses to grasp some significant opportunities.

The speakers provided a range of viewpoints, exploring why change is inevitable, discussing how technologies and data could permit a step change in the way we farm and bringing practical experiences of successful change in a range of farm enterprises.

Opening the conference and throwing down the gauntlet to the audience, Professor Nigel Scollan from Queens University, Belfast said that we are on the cusp of a golden opportunity for agriculture.

“In the next 50 years we must produce as much food on the planet as we have produced in the last 500 years.  Climate change will potentially reduce agricultural production by 2% each decade but demand will increase by 14% per decade.  The destiny is within our own hands.  Will UK farming be able to grasp this opportunity?”

He explains that agriculture is fundamental to many of the challenges facing society in general including health and well-being, food production, biodiversity and the environment, and energy security and supply.

He stressed that the industry must evolve to grasp the opportunity but explained a fundamental difference between change and transformation.

“Change is about improving past results and making the current system more efficient and is about tactics,” he said. “Transformation is about looking wider and thinking about the future.  It is driven by strategy and about developing and delivering a vision, about daring to be different.

“In UK farming we need to be thinking seriously about transforming rather than just changing, although both are needed as we cannot afford to stand still.”

The principle of creating a vision and challenging everything at a fundamental level was picked up by arable farmer Sam Watson-Jones from the Small Robot Company who believes true digitalisation will open the door to more effective farming.

“Currently the thing that drives arable farming is making machines as productive as possible, not plants.  Everything is done on the average – average seed placement, blanket fertiliser and spray applications, harvesting when on average the field is ready.

“Yet 40% of fertiliser never reaches the target plant, we spray chemicals on healthy plants and pay no attention to the soil when planning inputs.  With data and Artificial Intelligence we can challenge this by being more precise which offers the potential to improve productivity and reduce costs.”

While not everyone agreed with him, one thing all the speakers agreed on was the need to better recruit and retain staff to work on farming business which need to be more strongly positioned as food production facilities.

There is no doubt that the farming industry in 10 years time will look very different to now, but by embracing transformation and change the future could be bright.

Heard at the conference

“See change as a friend and grasp the opportunity”

“Successful business are in a continuous process of change and transformation.”

“UK agriculture needs a major step change in productivity.”

“We must drive the agenda.  The role of Government is to facilitate and help.”

“If a parcel of land won’t deliver a profit, don’t drill it!  Data will help us make these decisions.”

“Change is uncomfortable.  Communication is the key.  You must take people with you.”

“The decision making on the future for businesses must lie with the people who understand the opportunities.”

“Open your minds to change.  Suspend judgement”

“Brexit, in whatever form it arrives, will bring challenges and initiate change.”

“The UK has been slow to adopt co-operative collaborative approaches.  In the future we must collaborate more.”

“We must all be market lead, not production driven.”

“Always employ the best people you can afford to employ with the skills for the job and then give them the autonomy to make decisions.”

“The right team can achieve amazing things.”

“Diversification is not an option.  We needs more legs on the stool.”

Please click on the appropriate name to see a copy of the presentation

Professor Nigel Scollan, Director of the Institute for Global Food Security, Queen’s University Belfast

Sam Watson Jones, Small Robot Company

Captain Bob Rusbridger, Babcock International

Nick Green FIAgrM CEnv, Alvis Bros. Ltd

Tom Bradshaw, Chairman NFU Crops Board

 Johnny Wake MIAgrM, Courteenhall Estate

Andrew Francis P.Agric (MIAgrM) , Elveden Farms