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‘The Future of Farming’ – A round-up of Lodders’ Rural Conference

At one of the most significant times for the UK’s farming sector, Lodders held its inaugural Rural Conference to explore the challenges and opportunities for the farming sector and rural enterprises.

Chaired by head of Lodders’ Rural Sector team, James Spreckley, guests had presentations from representatives of the NFU, The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Farming Community Network, and Fresh Start Land Enterprise Centre, as well as two farmers, who shared their diversification journey.

Diversification

In 2013, after several years in farm and estate management, James Blanchard returned to Blanchard Enterprises, as the third generation to manage the farm:

“Historically, the business had derived 90% of income from agricultural activities,” James explained, “but profitability was dwindling. We embarked on a plan to restructure, adapt and diversify to secure the farm’s survival and growth.

“The personal challenge was to create a sustainable, ethical, agile and tech-savvy business. The business challenge was how it should change.”

Six years on and Blanchard Enterprises boasts an integrated operation with complementary components that support effective diversification: outdoor reared pigs – the bedrock of the farm’s operation, combinable crops, commercial, residential and equestrian let properties and a feed mill.

Conservation

Dr Alastair Leake is head of the Allerton Project at 800-acre Allerton Farm, a lowland demonstration farm for the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust.

He explained that since 1992, the Project has investigated the impact of combining productive farming with conservation, monitoring the interaction between farming, wildlife conservation, resource management and the environment.

In a 30-year study of songbirds, during a period when farmland birds declined, the Allerton project has shown that with proper management, biodiversity and farming can work hand-in-hand.

By managing habitat, introducing and varying seasonal feeding, and exercising predator control, bird numbers have doubled.

“By focusing crop output on the most productive land, wildlife can be encouraged on the unproductive elements, providing the financial and environmental returns demanded of farmers,” Dr Leake said.

Collaboration

Fresh Start Land Enterprise Centre encourages new thinking among land-based industries and entrepreneurs.

Its MD, Alison Rickett explained how collaboration has benefits for agriculture: “Through options for those with land and those without, we facilitate land partnerships to unlock business innovation.

“This match-making service can create the next generation of farmers and agri-businesses, helping land entrepreneurs to get a foot on the ladder.”

Business Continuity

However robust your business may be, supporting the individuals behind it is key to its continued success. Charles Smith, Chief Executive of the Farming Community Network, explained the support the charity can provide to farmers who find themselves with challenges and issues to address.

This then left Jessica Beddows and John Rouse, both partners in Lodders Rural Sector and Private Client teams, to explain how having a lasting power of attorney can ensure the business can operate in the event of incapacity of those critical to its running and to remind us all how important regular and open communication within farming families is, to ensure effective handover and continuity from one generation to the next.

Food in the Future

To bring things to a conclusion, Dr Andrea Graham head of research at the National Farmers Union, discussed the NFU’s recent ‘The Future of Food 2040’ report. This highlighted the need to take a balanced view of just how far and how fast agriculture is going to change in coming years, with an ever-growing population, and also how the sector needs to set its eyes beyond Brexit and be planning for a future beyond then, whatever this ultimately turns out to be.

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To find out more about this article, please contact James Spreckley on 01789 206166 or via email.