Tilly Ireland reports on the final meeting of the 2018/19 CDP which saw them head down to Westminster and attend the closing dinner - seeing the programme off in style!
On the morning of Wednesday 27th February, the sun was shining as we gathered outside Westminster tube station for what would be the last visit of the NFU Cereals Development Programme and what a great time we have had! It had the potential to be a great few days in London.
We were greeted at the Houses of Parliament by Craig Tracey, MP for the North Warwickshire constituency, who had kindly sponsored us for the morning. The group began the guided tour in Westminster Hall where Craig directed us through into the Lobby’s and Chamber’s to visit the House of Commons, just before the chamber was shut off for prayers and Prime Ministers Questions. It felt quite surreal to be stood in a place where daily we see the Prime minister and many other well-known politicians on the television. We also managed to squeeze in a visit to the famous Strangers Bar but don’t worry, we were too early for an alcoholic drink! The tour was followed by a question and answer session at Portcullis House with Craig, where HS2 and of course Brexit were up for discussion.
Our next guest speaker was Sarah Hugo, who works for DEFRA as part of the Arable, Fertilizer and Wine Team in the Food and Farming Sector. Sarah clarified the DEFRA structure, explaining how they worked and what they covered. They have offices based in London, York and Bristol, working closely with the NFU, British Sugar, NABIM and British Maltsters with a mission of restoring and enhancing the environment for the next generation and to leave the environment in a good state. Of course, the exit out of the EU was deliberated a great deal and it was obvious the large part DEFRA have had to play in the last few months regarding the Agriculture and Fisheries Bill. There are over 1200 EU laws (25% EU legislation) that DEFRA may have to implement and so it was seen to be a good opportunity to reshape legislation for the future.
Penultimately is was the NFU’s External Affairs Manager Scott Pepé’s turn to share his expert knowledge on the importance of British Food and drink. Scott's position within the NFU involves lobbying government by arranging meetings, working with policy teams, organising roundtables with MPs and launching campaigns such as #BACKBRITISHFARMING. It was also noted the importance of broadening the network and working closely with all governing parties due to the uncertainty of the future.
Alex Waugh, director of the National Association of British and Irish Millers (NABIM), was the last presenter of the day. He spoke to the group about the current state of UK flour milling and the efficiency of the flour milling process. 55% of flour is used in the bread making process with the remainder used for such products as pizza bases, cakes, biscuits, soups, thickeners etc. The milling wheat process works very much on a just in time process with flour produced on a Friday, being used in a product that is found on a kitchen table the following Tuesday. Efficiency is key throughout the whole supply chain in order for this to be able to happen.
For the closing dinner we were honoured to have NFU President Minette Batters join us, along with USDA Agricultural Counsellor Stan Phillips, two previous CDP candidates and some members of the NFU Crops Board. Both Minette and Stan gave inspirational speeches before we all gradually made our way into the big city to celebrate what has been an absolutely fantastic few months.
It wasn’t all over just yet, as the following morning the group arrived at The ICE offices (Intercontinental Exchange), where we were met by Toby Brandon and Capucine Lartigue Andrade.Some of the CDP delegate’s farm businesses trade or have traded futures in the past and so had some knowledge beforehand. It was good to try and get a better understanding of the very complex world of futures contracts.
The last visit of the day was at the underground farm in Clapham, which was a last minute bonus added to our London trip. We were welcomed by Sophie Winter and Richard Ballard after arriving at ‘Growing Underground’ and within a short space of time, we were heading down the 180 step staircase into the tunnels. The tunnels were originally built as air raid shelters and then went on to provide businesses with document storage. Growing Underground was founded in 2014 and now grow a wide range of micro herbs such as fennel, mustard and pea shoots to supply Ocado, Marks & Spencer’s and Waitrose.
They grow these products through the use of UV light, a controlled environment and believe it or not, pieces of recycled carpet! We were also lucky enough to receive some Red Tractor approved products to take home with us.
After carrying our bags with us most of the day, I think we were all quite pleased to finally be heading home. I am absolutely certain that I can say on behalf of everybody on the programme, we have all had a fantastic time. Much has been covered in the last six months, having seen every aspect of the supply chain from field to fork and going to places where we would never normally get the opportunity to visit.
On a final note, I would like to thank all the people who made the programme possible, especially Chloe Lockhart who has been absolutely amazing. I urge anybody who is interested in taking part in the 2020 programme to apply – it’s a great opportunity that you certainly don’t want to miss.