We asked a few of our speakers from the upcoming Fir Farm Conference 2022 to share their thoughts on the issues that matter most to them – true cost accounting, sustainability, animal welfare, and of course, farming.

Paula Daniels

Paula Daniels is Co-founder, Chief of What’s Next, and founding Chair of the Center for Good Food Purchasing, a social enterprise non-profit founded in July of 2015 as a national spin-off from the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, which Paula founded in 2011. The Center for Good Food Purchasing uses the power of procurement to create a transparent and equitable food system that prioritises the health and well-being of people, animals and the environment, through the nationally-networked adoption and implementation of the Good Food Purchasing Program by large institutions. There are numerous institutions in many large cities across the US enrolled in this Program.

True cost accounting can be a vital tool in reforming our food system – how do we leverage it more effectively to drive real change in food production?

True cost accounting is important in shining a light on the otherwise hidden costs in the food system, so that businesses and policy makers can better design their practices and policies.

Why are local food economies important in our food system and how do we best foster their development?

Local food systems are a key aspect of supply chain resilience in times of disruption, as well as important frameworks for supporting local economic development and small businesses.

What’s most important in the creation of a healthy food secure future?

Recognising the public interest in a healthy equitable food system, and designing supportive policies accordingly.

John Gilliland

John Gilliland is Director of Global Agriculture and Sustainability at Devenish, an innovative livestock nutrition company with a focus on sustainable food solutions. He was recently appointed Professor of Practice in Agriculture and Sustainability at Queens University Belfast. John has previously been an award-winning farmer in Ireland, President of the Ulster Farmers Union, a policy adviser for Devolved, National and European Governments on Biotechnology, Climate Change and Sustainability, and chair of Defra’s Rural Climate Change Forum for seven years. For the last six years he has chaired the N. Ireland Expert Working Group on Sustainable Land Management and is currently a member of the EU Commission’s Mission Board Assembly on Soil Health & Food in Brussels.

How would you define ‘sustainability’ in food and farming, especially from a global perspective?

Sustainability means different things to different people. For me, it is about using the breadth of human intelligence to produce food and manage our natural environment in a manner that improves human health, environmental health and profitability, all at the same time, and that allows us to feed 8 billion people, by 2050.

What’s most important in how we evaluate the impact and sustainability of our farming systems?

If you can’t measure, you will never be able to manage your impact on sustainability. Core to the work I am leading is measuring farming systems at the landscape level, then repeating the measurements on a regular basis to inform and communicate the journey of improving sustainability of our farming systems.

What do you see as the three most important changes that need to happen in the way we farm, if we are to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees?

Firstly, there is no silver bullet. To date, we have been very good at bringing forward single innovations without any understanding of how they impact the other public goods we provide. Research and education into systems-based solutions that optimises the synergies and minimises perverse outcomes will be fundamental. Secondly, knowing where your business is on its journey to Net Zero – knowing your gross emissions, your gross sequestration and ultimately your net carbon position and what tools are needed to improve the net position over time, is vital. Lastly, building resilience into your food production system that will allow you to weather both the direct and indirect impacts of ever-increasing numbers and severity of extreme weather events will be essential.

Marisa Heath      

Marisa Heath has 17 years of experience as a policy adviser and campaigner, working on issues relating to food, farming, animal health and welfare in the UK and has also worked internationally on agroforestry projects. She is Cabinet member for Environment at Surrey County Council responsible for the Climate Change Delivery Plan and is involved in numerous projects around local food, land management and nature recovery. She has a strong interest in future food systems and the role of better meat, plant-based food and sustainable production. She authored the ‘Future for Small Abattoirs’ report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare and currently co-chairs the Small Abattoir Task and Finish Group which works closely with Defra as well as running a Trade Alliance that seeks to set core animal welfare and environment standards for UK trade policy on agriculture.

What are your key concerns in relation to animal welfare among farm animals in the UK?

The increasing shift to industrial farming where animals are kept indoors and the demand for cheap protein in light of the cost of living, means people will not shift to ‘better’ meat where animals are reared on pasture as part of regenerative farming. Also, as consolidation continues to take place, animals will be transported further within the UK and often moved through collection points and, whilst this does not mean welfare standards are not met, it does raise the scope for stress and potential welfare issues to arise.

Why are small abattoirs important to our food security?

It is recognised that there are different business models for livestock rearing and slaughter. Farmers who are producing for large retailers who either own their own processing plant or have strong affiliations with large processors, will not have their needs – mainly based around throughput – met in small abattoirs. Smaller producers who are producing for specific markets will prefer to use small local abattoirs and will find their needs are better met within them. There needs to be choice to enable a strong functional and sustainable market in the UK that will ensure food security. The critical role small abattoirs can play in providing ‘private kill’ and the easy return of livestock products to farmers and collaborators to add value to those products, should be recognised as key to enabling the evolution of a self-sustainable rural farming economy, which is a real part of food security.

How do we protect British animal welfare standards in the face of trade deals?

Foremost, we need a trade policy that protects UK standards within every trade deal and makes it clear what is not acceptable in regards to imports via the setting of core standards, so farmers feel secure that the standards to which they are producing will not be undercut by cheap imports. We have good animal welfare standards in the UK and there is consideration of going further, with the potential ban on caged hens for example, but we can go even further through local food production and creating a risk based regulatory system that supports domestic local production. Clearly, we do not want to jeopardise our trading position, however there are measures which can be taken to support smaller producers and provide food aligned with even higher animal welfare including short transport distances and quick processing. 

Sarah Langford

Author and former barrister Sarah Langford has returned to her roots in farming. Leaving her life in London to run a small family farm with her husband, she wrote the recently published Rooted: Stories of Life, Land, and a Farming Revolution, which weaves her own learning as a farmer in with the narratives of farmers that she learned from. Rooted offers a picture of 21st century farming and the difficulties farmers face, but it also looks at the great potential of regenerative practices to map a path to a sustainable farming future.

What have you learned from your land?

It taught me to see. Once you learn how to look at soil, wildflowers, the birds and creatures that live upon the land, even weeds, everything looks different. You can never go back.

You grew up in the countryside – what has changed about it since you moved back to the country?

I grew up with grandparents in the countryside where we spent all our spare time. They were in Hampshire, which is full of hills and woods. When I moved back to the countryside as an adult I did so to Suffolk, on the other side of the country. I’d never seen such huge flat fields before. Walking through a field where you genuinely couldn’t see where it ended or began was quite a strange experience.

Do you want your children to grow up to be farmers?

I would love them to have work which is creative, purposeful, intellectually challenging, enterprising and meaningful. So, I suppose, yes.