A journey into farming’s future

As farmers we are asked to produce healthy, nutritious food, while being a leading player in the battle to slow/halt/reverse environmental damage. Often working alone, running a family business with the weight of history on your shoulders as well as feeling responsible for the future of generations to come. And on top of that, farmers are facing some of the biggest policy changes to the sector in decades. It is easy to feel, as a farmer, that you are standing at the bottom of a looming, vertical mountain with very little support to get you to the summit.

This is why events such as the Norfolk Farming Conference are so very important in the agricultural calendar. An opportunity to listen to some of the leading minds in food and farming while also connecting with people who are facing the same challenges you are facing.

This year’s Norfolk Farming Conference takes place on Tuesday 6 February at the Norfolk Show ground and it promises to be a day packed full of ideas, discussion and innovation.

The Conference will focus on three key themes: how farmers can impact the environment in a positive way; how farmers can use data effectively; and why the health of the nation is in the hands of farmers.

With so much being asked of the farming community by politicians, environment groups and the general public, it is tempting to stick our heads in the sand and just do what has always been done in the past. The 16 speakers who will be taking to the stage at the Conference are united in their ambition to show that there can be a brighter future for farming, both in terms of environmental reparation and food production.

As one of the speakers, Craig Livingstone of Lockerby Estate and Preston Farms put it: ‘We want to make decisions today that we won’t look back on in 50 years and regret.’

Conference chair Dr Belinda Clarke will open the day’s events and the welcome address will be given by Rt Hon Mark Spencer, the Minister for Farming.

Taking care of the environment


The morning session is devoted to examining the environmental impact of farming and how innovation is changing the narrative to a far more positive future. Professor Jules Pretty (professor of Environment and Society, University of Essex), Craig Livingstone (Director of farming and Estates and Lockerby Estate and Preston Farms), Philip de Jong (Dutch Agricultural Attache) and Dr Lydia Smith (Director of NIAB) will all address the conference to expand upon their own ideas on land use and how farming can be done for the good of the environment as well as food production. 

Fast becoming an iconic figure in the world of farming, former Groove Amada frontman Andy Cato and founder of WildFarmed will be on hand to explain his vision – based on his own farming experiences – of a world in which soil health and food production go hand in hand.

Data: the key to success?


Rainfall, soil samples, nitrogen levels, estrus detection – the list of data available to us on a daily basis seems infinite – and overwhelming. The second set of speakers will look at data and how it can be used to greatest effect within farming. Dr Tina Barsby (Chair British Farm Data Council), Lee Leachman (CEO Leachman Cattle, Colorado) and David Flanders (CEO Agrimetrics) will be on stage to talk about using data to enhance sustainability. This is a must for all those who are bewildered by the sheer volume of data that is available to us and fret about what information we should prioritise. 

Dominic Swan of Catalyst Farming will later present a case study of how data is used to help the farms within Catalyst Farming work together collaboratively.

With the average age of farmers in the UK in the mid to late 50s, it will be refreshing to listen to the discussion between the RNAA Norfolk Scholars. Chaired by journalist and academic Jez Fredenburgh, the session is titled Norfolk Voices for Norfolk Futures. 

Feeding the nation


In the afternoon, attention turns to the importance of farming to the health of the population. 

Sophie Throup (Head of Agriculture, Fisheries and Sustainable Sourcing, Wm Morrison), Josiah Meldrum (Founder Hodemedod) and professor Martin Warren (Head of Food Innovation Health Programme, Quadram Institute Bioscience) join forces to discuss the importance of farming in the dietary health of the nation. In a time when all the discussion is around the price of food, this is an opportunity to change the narrative and look at the health and nutritional benefits of food that is grown to high standards. 

The closing address, from the founder of the UK Sustainable Food Trust and organic dairy farmer Patrick Holden, promises to be an upbeat look at the future of farming.  

Tickets are still available for this blue riband event in the Norfolk Farming calendar. Click here for details.