Sussex Life - - Front Page -

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.

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