Farming charities unite for Farm Support Group Conference

An image of all the farming charities gathered together at NFU HQ

Photograph: The Prince's Countryside Fund

The Prince's Countryside Fund's Farm Support Group Conference, hosted by the NFU, saw double the number of organisations from the previous year come together to discuss everything from farm business concerns to the importance of tenant farmers and the journey to net zero.

NFU Vice President David Exwood opened the two-day conference by outlining the NFU's current work, highlighting the issues faced over the past year with the war in Ukraine, food shortages, political uncertainty and financial pressures.

This led to questions around farmers' abilities to plan ahead in the event of crises and discussion around the changing nature of farming.

Agricultural policy updates

The first of the panel sessions focused on agricultural policy updates for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Jonathan Baker, Defra's Deputy Director, Programme Policy, Engagement and Strategy in the Future Farming and Countryside Programme, provided an overview of the Sustainable Farming Incentive and Environmental Land Management schemes. Concerns were raised over the uncertainty surrounding the new schemes with the removal of BPS.

Gareth Davies, CEO of Tir Dewi Farm Support, raised concerns over the Welsh political agenda for farming, particularly around the proposal to designate the whole of Wales as an NVZ. This is raising concerns for farmers’ ability to spread fertilisers.

Harry Seran, Financial Manager of the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institute, said the Scottish Agriculture Bill was expected in late 2023, but there was currently a lack of detail about new support schemes, with change expected between 2024 and 2026.

Gillian Read, Head of Farm Support for the Northern Ireland Rural Support, raised concerns around the lack of agricultural direction from government as a result of political uncertainty, and issues facing tenant farmers.

Post-BPS funding discussion

The second panel session of the day looked at post-BPS funding, with particular reference to the change in payments.

What is the Prince's Countryside Fund?

Founded by HM King Charles III in 2010 while he was The Prince of Wales, The Prince’s Countryside Fund is the only UK-wide charity that empowers family farms and rural communities to ensure their future.

Over the past decade, it has invested more than £10m in more than 400 projects working across the UK which improve service provision in rural areas, support farming businesses and rural enterprises, and provide training opportunities for young people. 

It has been running its Farm Support Group Initiative since 2019, growing to represent and help over 50 organisations to better collaborate and share knowledge, best practice and advice.

The session featured Chris McVey from RSABI, Veronica Waller from the Farmer Network, Gareth Davies from Tir Dewi and Edward Richardson from Farm Cornwall as the panellists and discussed the challenges faced by the industry.

Rock Review and tenant farming's future

Baroness Kate Rock and George Dunn, CEO of the Tenant Farmers Association, delivered the closing session of the first day discussing the Rock Review and future of farming for tenants.

Questions were asked about the increase in landlords taking not renewing tenancies in order to put the land into environmental schemes.

The importance of tenant farmers for the future of agriculture was recognised, along with the value of a good relationship between landlords, land agents and tenants.

Carbon and net zero

The second day began with a session on carbon led by Becky Wilson, Business Development and Technical Director of the Farm Carbon Toolkit.

Becky discussed the opportunities for farmers in working with carbon in building resilience and futureproofing businesses, the importance of farmer involvement and the development of carbon calculators in order for the industry to achieve the NFU's 2040 net zero ambition.

Support schemes update

Richard Wordsworth, NFU Senior Advisor for Support Schemes, provided a practical update on grants and SFI, discussing the future and applicability of the support schemes.

He also addressed the Lump Sum Exit Scheme and the proposed introduction of delinked payments.

Organisations and charities in attendance:

  • Farm Safety Foundation
  • Yorkshire Agricultural Society
  • The Farming Life Centre
  • Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services (UTASS)
  • Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institute
  • Tir Dewi
  • Shropshire Rural Support
  • Warwickshire Rural Hub
  • Addington Fund
  • Derbyshire Rural Chaplaincy
  • You Are Not Alone
  • Norfolk FWAG
  • Farming Community Network
  • Farming Community Network Cymru
  • Cheshire Agricultural Chaplaincy
  • We Are Farming Minds
  • National Federation of Young Farmers
  • Scottish Association of Young Farmer Clubs
  • Church of England
  • Wight Rural Hub
  • Northern Ireland Rural Support
  • Gloucestershire Farming Friends
  • Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institute
  • Farm Carbon Toolkit
  • Exmoor Hill Farming Network
  • Dartmoor Hill Farm Project
  • High Weald AONB
  • Farm Cornwall
  • Field Nurse
  • Herefordshire Rural Hub
  • Lincolnshire Rural Support Network
  • Forage Aid
  • Rural Payment Agency
  • The Livestock Auctioneers Association Ltd
  • The Farmer Network Ltd
  • Myerscough College
  • Tenant Farmers Association
  • Waitrose

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