At The Future of UK Farming conference this past April, we explored what the future might hold for farming in the UK post-Brexit, setting out the opportunities and discussing how farming practice might become more sustainable.

The following films capture the sessions in full and include a series of thought-provoking questions from the audience.

The Future of UK Farming with Michael Gove and Minette Batters 

Placing health at the forefront of his agenda, Gove recognised that human health is integrally linked to how food is produced and so the health of the environment is of equal importance – “there need not be a tension between growing healthy food and securing a healthy environment,” he asserted. The sustainability of the UK food system was placed front and centre and extended to include the need to sustain rural communities and culture. In 20 years’ time, he wants the UK to be a leader in sustainable food production, championing high animal welfare, healthy soil, increased wildlife on farms and less waste – it is a hopeful vision of change and renewal.

Crediting the Secretary of State for his good work, Minette Batters opened her keynote by saying that it is great to be working with a politician who can finally put “the importance of farming, the environment and food production very firmly on the political map”. Minette went on to trace the past twenty years of British farming, arguing that we are in fact starting Brexit with solid foundations, having halved our use of pesticides and inorganic fertiliser over the past twenty years, and with the growth of assurance schemes such as Red Tractor and LEAF to underpin our development. She explained her vision for a future of active farming businesses that are “sustainable, profitable and progressive”, delivering for all incomes. She welcomed the Secretary of State’s plan to enhance the reputation of the UK food system at home and abroad, stating that, “We’ve never needed a bigger bolder plan for food production than we do today.”

Measuring and Valuing Sustainability

The Sustainable Food Trust’s Patrick Holden chaired a session on “Measuring and Valuing Sustainability”. Joined by Edward Parsons of the Waddesdon Estate, Dieter Helm of the Natural Capital Committee, Helen Browning of the Soil Association and Andrew Sells of Natural England, the panel discussed how to transform the economic environment for sustainable food production by empowering farmers to deliver measurable public goods.

To achieve this, farmers need a meaningful tool for measuring progress and the government need a way of assessing the impact of their policies. Currently, assessing field to fork sustainability involves multiple and overlapping audits that are needed to satisfy numerous different stakeholders, both at farm level and throughout the supply chain. The first thing to do, argued Dieter Helm, must be to stand back and ask, “What questions are these assessments trying to answer, and what are we actually trying to achieve?”

In order to understand how we could simplify the current system, a ‘whole farm’ integrated sustainability assessment is necessary. This would reduce the burden on producers, providing a tool for government to help determine eligibility for and the impact of public money, whilst informing consumers about the true sustainability of products in the market place.

 

Polyface Farm: A Story of soil, grass and animals

American pioneer farmer Joel Salatin introduces Polyface Farm, describing the system he has developed for more than 30 years in the management of a beef herd, pastured poultry and pigs. Joel begins by introducing his farm, then dissects some of the paradigms and buzz words used in the world of farming today, and reveals his “10 benchmarks of truth”. Following a thoughtful audience led question and answer session, Joel concludes with his following ‘farmer blessing’:

“May all of your carrots grow long and straight,

May your radishes be large but not pithy,

May tomato blossom end rot affect your Monsanto neighbours tomatoes,

May the foxes be struck blind at your pasture chickens,

May all of your culinary experiments be delectably palatable,

May the rain fall gently on your fields

The wind be always at your back,

Your children rise and call you blessed

And may we all make our nest a better place than we inherited”

 

Linking Soil, Plant and Animal Health

Science is emerging which provides evidence on the impact of current farming systems, but what does this mean for farmers? At our recent Future of UK Farming Conference, the panel of soil experts discuss which methods of production have the potential to rebuild lost soil fertility, promote integrated nature conservation and create viable and profitable business models for producers in the future, as well as considering how could government incentives help accelerate this change.

Chaired by Landscape Architect Kim Wilkie, the panel includes Joel Williams, a soil enthusiast and engaging presenter on soil health and integrated approaches of sustainable farming, and founder of Integrated Soils; Hylton Murray-Philipson and Tom Heathcote from the Blaston Estate in Leicestershire and Rob Havard of Havard & Co Organic Farms.

Small Abattoirs and On-Farm Slaughter: The Future of Local Meat

Without urgent action to support small abattoirs, does local, traceable meat have a future? How might we address the need for more local slaughter facilities, to create shorter supply chains for organic grass-fed heritage breeds, and enable more successful marketing for them; and what are the existing challenges and barriers small abattoirs are facing in the UK?

A panel of experts in the field discussed these questions and more, with on-farm slaughter and mobile abattoirs suggested as possible solutions.

Chaired by Tim Morris of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, the session begins with Policy Advisor to the SFT, Bob Kennard, examining the decline in the number of small abattoirs, falling in the UK from 30,000 in the 1930s to 248 today. Small abattoir owner and butcher John Mettrick explains the problem with economies of scale and regulations affecting, for example, waste collection and ante-mortem inspection. Producer of top-quality “ethical scotch beef” Robin Tuke of Hardiesmill gives six suggestions for setting up an on-farm micro-abattoir based on his own experience. Local Authority Environmental Health Officer Natasha Jenkins sets out the potential for the exemptions awarded to small-scale poultry and wild game to be replicated for similarly small-scale red meat. Finally, Paddy Hoare of Fir Farm discusses elements of the Campaign for Local Abattoirs including the design of a mobile abattoir to allow on-farm slaughter.

New Models for Local Food Systems

Are there new, emergent, re-localised models that can challenge the current orthodoxy and revitalise local markets? Our panellists explored this question during a session on ‘New Models for Local Food Systems’.

Adrian Dolby, Head of Agriculture at Buccleuch in Southern Scotland, explains how one of the largest privately-owned land holdings in the UK, at over 82,000 ha, provides farm tenants with opportunities to develop their farming potential and maintain economic viability. Caroline Grindrod, co-founder of Primal Meats – an on-line meat business selling 100% organic grass-fed meat, explores how and why she combines holistic management, regenerative agriculture and environmental conservation for the benefit of human health and by default the health of her farm animals and the land. Farmdrop’s Ben Pugh sets out how the ethical grocery company came to be and the challenges they continue to face, whilst Darina Allen, founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School explains how her school does its utmost to ensure that they remain sustainable both environmentally and culturally.

 

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