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What will the Agricultural Bill Bring to UK Agriculture & Food: what was said at the Reading Agricultural Club Conference? by John Giles FIAgrM

Date Published: 29/01/2021

This is a great event which is now in its 55th year and held earlier this week in an online format. I get involved, in my role as a Visiting Lecturer at Reading, providing a bit of help and guidance to the students on the event per se, as well as chairing the Q & A part of the evening. The students had lined up an interesting panel of speakers to join the event that included;

  • Jacob Anthony - Farmers Weekly, Young Farmer of the Year
  • Nathalie Smith - Head of Agriculture at Tesco
  • Phil Hambling - Head of Farming & Food at the NFU
  • Martin Froment - Team Leader, Future Farming and Conservation Programme at Defra

During the course of the evening, we covered a wide range of subjects and topics. We had 71 questions asked, in all, via the virtual Q & A app. We couldn’t tackle all of these in the 90 or so minutes we had - but we had a go!

Some of the points made that seemed to be of special interest to me were as follows:

  • we will look back, in time, at the Agricultural Bill as being a defining moment in the development of UK agriculture and farming. The CAP wasn’t working for the UK and here is the opportunity to re define how we support agriculture and food in the future and what we want from the industry. At the same time, there comes a huge responsibility to “get this right” for the future
  • the development of more sustainable and environmentally agricultural and food production is already a major part of the way forward and food security for the UK is going to be of critical importance
  • there will need to be more use of renewable energy - be it wind, solar, water or biogas based
  • the devolved governments will need to work together to produce a coherent set of policy measures in the future across the UK
  • farmers need to continue to engage in a positive fashion with government, consumers and their own farming unions and the whole issue of food being produced in a sustainable and responsible fashion will be of increasing importance to UK consumers over the next 3 – 5 years
  • many consumers still do not always understand the full complexity of what “sustainable” farming and food means (but some do!), but want to be re assured that farmers, food companies and retailers are “doing the right thing”
  • farming can thrive in the new policy environment we are entering in to - but we all need to recognise that this will be different from the last 40 or so years under the CAP. We need to embrace the changes that are we are going to see and see this as a “jump into the light” – not a “jump in to the dark”
  • the UK has an aspiration to be a leader in the area of agricultural and food sustainability. This covers areas such as climate change, water usage and soil management – not least these are issues that impact on the global agri food sector and many other countries also have to face up to these pressures
  • farmers in the UK have a history of embracing change and we need to be optimistic about what the future will bring
  • the supply chain needs to respond to what consumer expectations of what farming and food looks like in the future. Consumer trends such as organics and plant based eating will continue to increase
  • the supply chain will also need to continue to work to produce a transparent and fair dynamic between producers, processors and retailers
  • UK food can help set the pace in terms of sustainable production and can be marketed to consumers both in domestic and international markets on a national and a regional basis

- and there was lots more discussed too.

We had over 100 students and staff from Reading attend this event, as well as members of the local branch of the Institute of Agricultural Management. Pride of place probably goes to John Wibberley, who posed a great question and then informed us he attended the very first of these events back in 1966, when he was a 1st year student at Reading! Good on you, John.

Well done to the Reading students for organising such a good event and many thanks to the panel for agreeing to join us - and participating in such an open manner to a range of great questions asked by the audience.

So - now on the 56th Agricultural Club Conference next year……if the 55th was anything to go by, I can’t wait!

John Giles FIAgrM