Northern Farming Conference
Northern Farming Conference

Never a better time to get into farming, say experts at the 2012 Northern Farming Conference

Despite a drought, the wettest summer on record and a poor harvest, the future for agriculture is bright but challenging, heard 220 delegates at the 2012 Northern Farming Conference in Harrogate.

The theme was “What Future for Farming?” and the event covered Government policy updates, education for aspiring and existing farmers, technical updates on livestock and arable sectors after this year’s weather and how to handle the question of sustainability.

Farmer and columnist Guy Smith said: “The biggest hurdle for young people coming into the industry is the price of land. It is getting out of hand. Paying £10,000 an acre just builds into that inertia.”

Harry CotterellHowever, CLA President Harry Cotterell said: “Despite all the difficulties, this is a very positive time to be going into agriculture. We have very good agricultural colleges filling a really vibrant industry. We need to start thinking about what the industry is going to look like in 50 years time and build an industry that’s fit for purpose for the future but it is a very exciting time to start.”


Perthshire sheep farmer and Nuffield scholar Michael Blanche said: “We need young people to believe that they can farm, that it is possible, that they can succeed against the odds and find their own way.”

As a first generation farmer who failed to get a tenancy seven times when he was starting out, he said: “Above all, be resilient, be the best and keep it simple. Giving up is easy. To be special, never give up. We don’t fail because of a lack of resources but because of a lack of resourcefulness.”

“Farming can be the most depressing industry in the world but it can also be the most exciting in the world. It depends on who you talk to. We need the excited voices to shout much louder.”

He added the farming ladder is “a flatpack with no instructions and several screws missing” and that an effective ladder and progression route was essential for an effective industry.

Julian Sturdy, MP for York Outer, said: “Our industry needs young farmers. We need them to take it to the next level but we also need a government that will champion our industry through thick and thin and as a farmer in politics I will be pushing that all the way. We also have to support all sectors, not just large businesses. Getting into farming is one of the hardest things to do and realistically the only way young people are going to start up is on a small scale and so we need to support small farms as well as the big players.”

In relation to CAP reform, he said: “We need to be realistic. Everyone is Europe is having to tighten their belts and we must do our share. It is vital we can compete. We have to invest in a future if we are going to meet the rising demands for food.”

Mike PowleyYorkshire beef farmer Mike Powley said there were numerous reasons to be cheerful, particularly in relation to the export market: “The ability to sell British offal abroad, adding about £120 to £130 of value to each carcass; the emergence of a prosperous Russian market with a taste in good quality beef; and a growth in interest in cooking at home in the UK are all helping. “There is a huge rise in interest in home cooking and cooking from scratch and consumers are looking for primary products. That is very positive for us.”

Anne McIntoshIt was not all good news though. Anne McIntosh MP, Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee said: “We face twin challenges of climate change and food security. We must have a sustainable countryside for the future, a one nation sustainable countryside.”

She said that “reluctantly” she had to support a pilot badger cull. “All of our cattle producers are terrified of having just one rogue animal in their herd. We have to do something.”

On Ash Dieback Disease, she said she was “appalled” by the fragmented response of forestry research and plant health organisations. “We need to forget our differences, pull together, pool our resources and move forward very quickly. Why on earth are we exporting seeds to other European countries to then import saplings which are often diseased?”

Mary CreaghGM foods were among the subjects discussed at the conference with Mary Creagh, Shadow Defra Secretary of State, saying it was time to reopen the debate. Arable farmer Andrew Gloag said: “In order to feed the world population genetically modified crops will have to be embraced. At the moment, I am doing the best I can and producing the best I can with the resources available to me but in the future, GM will have to be embraced.”

Guy Smith said: “As a farmer, it makes a whole heap of sense to me. It lowers the cost of production and makes us more competitive on the global scene. The sooner I can have it on my farm the happier I will be. However, I produce food people want to eat and at the moment there is no appetite for it. In terms of technology I want it as soon as possible but it is not sellable in the UK at the moment.”

To see more pictures from the conference, please visit: www.flickr.com/clanorth

The organisers would like to thank Pavilions of Harrogate, Saville Audio Visual and sponsor organizations as well as all the delegates who attended the 2012 conference, especially those who were kind enough to give their feedback.

The Northern Farming Conference 2013 will focus on farming structures and how we can use them to improve farm business efficiency.  We are currently looking at venues across the North and speakers who will be able to support this theme and will update this website with details as soon as there is anything to report.

partners Strutt and Parker CLA Bond Dickinson Armstrong Watson Hexham & Northern Marts Catchment Sensitive Farming Gibson and Co. Solicitors
Julian Sturdy MP
Farmer and MP for York Outer

Liz Phillip
Principal of Askham Bryan Agricultural College

Michael Blanche
First generation Perthshire sheep farmer and Nuffield scholar

Andrew Gloag
Yorkshire arable farmer

Mike Powley
Yorkshire beef farmer

Mary Creagh MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and MP for Wakefield

Anne McIntosh MP
Chair for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, and MP for Thirsk, Malton and Filey

Harry Cotterell
President of the Country Land and Business Association

Poul Christensen CBE
Chair of Natural England

Guy Smith
Essex farmer and Farmers Weekly columnist