Life gives us all a second chance, it’s called tomorrow. Generation Farm 2015

I was fortunate enough to attend this years Generation Farm Conference which was held at the University of Northampton’s iCon Innovation Centre, thanks to the kind sponsorship of my ticket by New Holland Agriculture (writes blogger Emily Hickman). I have certainly come away from the one day event with an entirely different understanding, appreciation and enthusiasm not only for UK agriculture, but for agriculture on a global scale. The slogan ‘Get A Different View’ was certainly apt. After listening to fourteen talks from a multitude of sectors and companies I am encouraged to ‘think big’ and prepared to ‘dream outside my comfort zone’.

Choosing a highlight from the day is difficult as all of the talks were informative and engaging, but particular praise must be given to Professor Richard Godwin (Harper Adams University), ‘The Future of Precision Farming'; Jake Freestone, ‘Mixed Farming for Sustainability'; Martin Barker, ‘Greencycle Principles'; and finally Professor Jane Rickson (Cranfield University), ‘Managing Soils for Sustainable Farming’. The debate on ‘Better Soil Management’ lead by Clive Deeley was another particular highlight, and the three panellists (Andrew Ward, Tony Miller and Sean Sparling) responded to questions from the audience and social media directly, with clear insight, knowledge and passion.

The main focus of the conference was sustainability, and many speakers addressed the ever increasing issue of soil sustainability. F.D. Roosevelt said “The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself” and this idea was touched upon numerous times throughout the day. We often take soil for granted, forgetting that if soil, as a basic, limited resource, was to disappear, terrestrial life would cease to exist. Somewhere in the region of 95-97% of the food we eat is produced using soil, yet soil is being eroded at an alarming rate. By 2050 global agricultural production will have to increase by 70% to sustain the worlds growing population, but the amount of land that we have available to produce food off is decreasing.

The economist Sean Rickard delivered a presentation on ‘Agriculture – Time for a supply-side revolution’, and addressed the issues agriculture faces in response to the growing global population. Rickard believes that we are ultimately facing a ‘trilemma’ – growing threats to food scarcity, the depletion of worldwide natural resources and climate change. As the scope to increase the area of arable production is limited, the focus now should be on increasing our outputs per hectare. The idea of ‘sustainable intensification’ was discussed, which, as he defines, is “…significant increase in the production of livestock and crops accompanied by a reduction in the use of natural resources, whilst increasing natural resource productivity.” He also discussed innovation as scale neutral and scale advantage, coming to the conclusion that the future of farming lies with the larger scale farms. Agriculture is set to become a data intensive industry, and in Rickard’s opinion, the future of farming will have more in common with a trading room in London than with agricultural practice. He concluded with the idea that for farming to progress a population of farmers willing to learn and adapt to new technology is needed.

Continuing with the idea of new technology, Professor Richard Godwin spoke about ‘The Future of Precision Farming’. Control Traffic Farming (CTF) was largely focussed on during his presentation, and he discussed the potential benefits that CTF can have for reducing compaction in soils. He also spoke fondly of the IAgrE, telling the audience how most people associated with the Institute truly believe that their job is the best job in the world. Seeing this fondness and passion come from such an esteemed academic and respected professional really proved to me just how much enthusiasm and emotion there is within the agricultural sector.

The first NSF Agriculture ‘Assured Farmer of the Year’ category awards were presented today. It was encouraging to see some of the best UK farmers being celebrated for their devotion to Farm Assurance schemes, and I am excited for the overall winner to be announced later in December.

So many ideas were shared at the conference and I would like to thank the organisers (FarmBusiness), the sponsors (NSF Agriculture, New Holland Agriculture, Mole Valley Farmers, CF and DSV) and the panel Chairman, Tom Bradshaw, for organising and supporting such a friendly, informative and thought provoking conference. I have no doubt that it will be a conference I continually visit and learn from.

(This article is reproduced with kind permission of Emily Hickman who blogs at https://lifeandthecows.wordpress.com/)

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