Day one was primarily based around the political landscape, with keynote talks from Mark Spencer MP (Minister of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Sir Keir Starmer MP (Leader of HM Official Opposition and Leader of the Labour Party) and Tony Danker, former Director General of the CBI.
While day two started with Thérèse Coffey MP (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), the primary focus was on building business resilience, with the managing director of Arla Foods UK and the chief communications and sustainability officer for Greene King both discussing how they have done just that in their respective businesses.
One of the key takeaways for me from the first day came from Tony Danker, whose suggestion was that going “against the political grain” will never produce a favourable result. For industry and businesses to succeed with governmental and regulatory change, they’re much better trying to pursue a position that is aligned with the incumbent government’s perspective than to push for something that’s not.
The poultry breakout session chaired by NFU Chief Poultry Adviser Aimee Mahony was a chance for the poultry industry to come together and discuss the challenges it faces. Needless to say, avian influenza was high on the agenda, as were the inflationary pressures we are all facing.
Elwyn Griffiths (owner and director of Griffiths Family Farms and Oaklands Farm Eggs) gave his views on the egg industry and an oversight of the fantastic reinvestment going into his business this year, with vast sums of money going into cage-free and biomass facilities.
The evening was an opportunity for all in attendance to enjoy a sit-down dinner and network. NFU President Minette Batters used her after-dinner speaking slot to gently remind the conference attendees that there was, in fact, a second day starting at 8:45am, and with a packed agenda, a good night’s sleep was highly advised! Thankfully, Minette was on top form for day two, demonstrating how best to lobby government to a room full of farmers, many of whom had ended up in the Walkabout bar the night before.
Thérèse Coffey MP kicked off day two and participated in a rather frosty Q&A session, but this was followed by a very enjoyable overview of the Greene King and Arla businesses. In an ever-changing world, it was incredibly interesting to hear how two powerhouses of their industries were embracing this and slowly starting to change their practices.
The presentations by Arla and Greene King were followed by a panel of five NFU members who were all pioneering a more climate-friendly way of farming.
With each enterprise being unique, it was fascinating to hear how small and subtle changes were compounding to produce large results. It also highlighted how nimble and resistant smaller enterprises can be to making changes while, in contrast, the complex workings of Arla and Greene King meant that small changes (while positive) often had several repercussions across various areas of the business that needed to be considered.
Overall, it was a fantastic conference. Listening to such a wide range of speakers, networking with other individuals across the entire agricultural industry and hearing my fellow PIP cohorts’ perspectives during discussions meant I left having benefited hugely from attending.