Hundreds of farmers joined 2024 Farming Conference to talk about current issues

Farmers from East Anglia joined the 2024 Farming Conference that took place on Thursday 29th February in Ipswich. A panel of experts shared their advice on ‘how to thrive, not just survive’ in the agricultural industry. 

The conference focused on three key topics that are relevant for farmers, including how to successfully manage your business in times of rapid change in the global economy, how to provide the best working conditions for your employees, and how to introduce innovation on your farm. 

The organisers said that the aim of the meet-up was to “inspire attendees to confront these challenges head-on  and explore the opportunities and solutions that exist”. 

Some of the 300 participants not only listened to the experts but also voiced their opinions in debates as well as extended their knowledge by asking questions. 

Financial issues in farming industry 

Grace O’Dwyer, deputy head of agriculture at HSBC bank talked about financial issues in the farming industry. 

She said: “I have a real privilege to walk with many of our customers to visit their farms, to sit around their kitchen tables and their board tables, and to have conversations. When I spend time in the communities of farmers across the country, there are some themes that come up time and time again. 

“Unsurprisingly, the first question asked a lot is what interest rates are going to do. In recent years, it’s been a very sharp increase. That’s coupled with the fact that most farming businesses have a high dependency on borrowing relative to the size of their business. So it’s a really key part of their business planning. 

“We’re talking here about multi-generational businesses, so the need to invest to continue to grow and develop those businesses is key. Going back to the question, it’s a little bit more than looking at a crystal ball, but it is very much a bit of an estimate.  

“When I talk to our economists internally, their perspective is maybe a little bit of a plateau, but certainly with the inflationary pressures we still have within the economy, it’s very likely that we won’t see any real changes in interest rates this side of harvest.” 

READ MORE : NFU Conference 2024: Food prices and unpredictable weather bring ‘tough times’ for farmers 

Crucial elections 

Marc Ostwald, chief economist and global strategist at ADM, told the farmers that the financial situation will be very much a reflection of the near elections, not only in the UK but also in the EU and the USA. 

Speaking about national elections, Mr Ostwald said: “I’ve been saying this for quite some time, not long after the Brexit vote, that I look at the 650 people in Parliament and I don’t see any leaders. I don’t see people who are going to be agents of change. 

“These are people who basically just want to be re-elected, and they’re not going to make the decisions. The key point is that we’re in a massive transition. A politician now basically needs to think beyond the term of his tenure as an MP and think of the good of the country. And that is the biggest challenge of all.” 

Investment in people 

While speaking about issues regarding employee retention and attracting new people to work on farms, Elizabeth Tree from Innovis said that it is of key importance that employers invest in their workers.  

She added: “There are some things that farmers could easily change on their farms that are important for employees. I’d start with facilities. This is something as simple as providing somewhere warm and dry for staff to eat their lunch, providing a microwave and fridge, and things like that. 

“If you’re looking at lower-skilled staff, for example, perhaps they’re going to be looking at working on your farm or working in a factory where those kinds of facilities are complete standards. 

“Investment in people and training is a really, really important part of this as well. I think being able to come into a business and see that there is a place for you and a ladder that you can climb within the business is the key. 

“This might just be something as simple as sending employees on a course or a conference to broaden their horizons a little bit.” 

Technology in farming 

While initiating the session about digital innovations in the farming industry, director of Agri-Tech E, Belinda Clarke, said that nowadays farmers have to face a “tsunami” of data and know how to effectively use technology in their day-to-day work. 

Ms Clarke added: “10 years ago, there was this concept that data was going to be the fourth crop for farmers, and I think we’re moving, thankfully, away from that now. But there’s no doubt that the digital revolution, whether it’s dashboards on your phone, relaying information from sensors, or field mapping, is underpinning the future of our industry. 

“But of course, that’s not without its challenges. We have got issues with trust, with data sharing, of business models around robotics adoption and software platforms maintenance contracts. This is a new way of farming, and this is a new way of thinking, especially when we want all these systems to talk to each other and talk to us and be interoperable.” 

One of the speakers, Kevin Gooding, the CEO of Diometer, concluded that farmers do not have to understand the technology, they just need to know how to use it for their own benefit. 

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READ MORE : NFU Conference: Which party will deliver best plan for British food?

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