Sentry Conference 2019

The 2019 Sentry Farming Conference at Newmarket enjoyed a full capacity agricultural audience with much to think about with an eclectic array of speakers, stressing the need for change with the tough challenges ahead posed by Brexit.

Australian Farmer and Nuffield Scholar, Randall Wilksch, suggested there is a lack of female farmers, particularly within the combinable sector.  He emphasised the need for more women in the industry to share their stories and celebrate the different perspectives and objectivity they can bring. It was no surprise to hear that there is a trend for sons to be farm successor, while daughters are general discouraged. Randell went on to speak about his farm and the challenges they face. What stood out were the high labour costs, due to the competition for labour with Australian mining companies.
Is this kind of competition for labour going to be seen more in the UK with the advent of Brexit and exchange rates influencing the labour market?

Mark Buckingham from Bayer introduced “Plant breeding technology beyond Brexit, what the future holds”.  Mark pointed out that the global population is probably going to reach 10 billion in 2050, by which time we will need to produce 50% more food and 70% more meat, while at the same time we could see a 1/3rd more food go to waste. To meet this increase in food production, plant breeding will have to play a key role as we strive to achieve the target on less than 1/3rd of an acre per person compared to 1 acre per person in 1961.

Suffolk business entrepreneur and organic farmer, William Kendall, spoke about “Maximising opportunity by adding value”. William pointed out from his experiences at Cawston Press, Green and Black and Covent Garden Soups, it is critical for farmers to pay particular attention to branding, knowing what the customers want and sharing the story about the production of food. He surmised, the future of farming lies much more in adding value than reducing costs.

A Brexit Panel answered questions from the floor with a wide range of subjects and perspectives covered regarding the uncertainty and challenges ahead. Whilst it was agreed that opportunities may arise for some in a financial downturn, many others in the industry could go out of business without radical change.

Roger Johnson, President of USA National Farmer Union, wrapped up the conference by considering, “What does the future hold when dealing with the USA?”. Roger provided an interesting insight to the USA’s own set of problems building trade relations with the likes of Japan and China which have been damaged in recent times. He also stated the USA’s appetite to trade with the UK whilst speaking of their continued use of hormones in beef, the chlorination of chicken and the view that they are safe procedures with a strong resistance to change current farming methods.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable and informative conference and special thanks must go to Ian Piggott and all the team at Sentry for putting on such a good day.