rexit was a hot topic at this year’s South of England Farming Conference. Farmers, landowners and agriculturalists flocked to the South of England Showground in Ardingly, West Sussex on 14 November for the event, organised by the South of England Agricultural Society.
The main event of the conference was the Great Agricultural Debate, which attracted an audience of more than 250 industry professionals, many with questions already in hand. BBC Radio Four’s Charlotte Smith chaired the impressive panel of industry leaders through a Question Time- style event, where topics such as education, sustainability, consumer food trends, environment and, of course, Brexit were discussed with passion – and a healthy dose of controversy.
Charlotte said: “Firstly it was brilliant timing to host this conference tonight, because actually in real time as we opened the debate, Theresa May came outside Number Ten and announced the latest news on Brexit. This immediately resonated with the audience who were trying to work out what this will mean for their businesses. A few years ago we wouldn’t have had this engagement and we can see and hear from so many tonight that suddenly farming is really stepping up to ask itself about its future and to discuss it.”
The lively and engaged discussion was led by panellists Joseph Delves, a Nuffield Scholar and innovative dairy farmer on a self-proclaimed mission to save the dairy industry; leading business consultant and government advisor on farm policy, Séan Rickard; Guy Smith, deputy president of the National Farmers Union and Brexit expert on the night; and Stuart Thomson, who heads up the European Food and Farming Partnerships’ food supply chain development work. It covered some of the greatest challenges facing modern farming.
Joseph Delves said: “I am a huge fan of getting people together from the food and farming industry to discuss relevant issues such as economics, social and environmental impacts and tonight has been fantastic in doing just that.”
The afternoon before the debate, the South of England Agricultural Society presented a technical forum for progressive farmers and innovators in the field chaired by 27-year-old Chris Appleton, who is a third generation farmer from Arlington in East Sussex.
Speakers included Ian Webb, who leads the south east agriculture business for Lloyds SME Banking on the character traits of successful businesses and Séan Rickard discussing his views on Brexit and the opportunities and challenges this will present to farmers if or when we leave the EU.
Though there is undoubtedly uncertainty and challenges ahead, overall the conference focused on learning and progressing to meet the future.