Saturday, 25 January 2014

Ulster Arable Society Conference

This week I had the opportunity to travel to another part of the United Kingdom to talk to farmers, policy makers and agricultural stakeholders. It turned out to be an extremely informative and interesting trip.

The arable and business conference was organised by the Ulster Arable Society, Ulster Farmers Union and CAFRE (College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise). The day started with the launch of the HGCA Farmhouse Breakfast week and over 100 farmers attended a wonderful local produce breakfast (the spicy black pudding was a true champion in a terrific breakfast menu).

A terrific display of local produce... I did only go round once... promise!! 
(Picture courtesy of Ulster Farmers Union)

A series of short presentations highlighting the merits of the morning meal and local produce were well received.The early morning risers then headed across the campus to the venue for the arable conference.

The audience had now swollen to 250 and the organisers were delighted with the attendance.

A packed audience questions the speakers panel
(Picture courtesy of the Ulster Arable Society)
The importance of the subjects covered by the speakers, from CAP, rotations, markets and Single Farm Payments was reflected in the questions on active farmers, entitlements and the Greening elements.

Having got the recent Leicester Tigers defeat by Ulster out in the open, I turned my attention to more pressing matters. My brief was to talk about integrating agri-environment and Greening into an arable business. Using practical examples from our work at Loddington, the aim was to show the importance of food production, environmental responsibility and community involvement in a profitable sustainable business. A series of questions, after the presentations, sparked an interesting debate which was overseen by the eloquent Andy Doyle from the Irish Farmers Journal.

My thanks go to Ian Marshall and Barclay Bell from the Ulster Farmers Union who took time to take me on a tour around some of Northern Ireland's farmland.  John and Simon Best, who along with Allan Chambers gave me a much appreciated insight into arable farming in Ulster. The team at CAFRE and the Ulster Arable Society were also excellent hosts.

I managed to catch up with a former student who helped us with a couple of harvests at Loddington. Nearly 20 years later Richard Crawford is involved in an impressive farming journey of his own and showed me five farms, which further expanded my knowledge of the challenges facing Northern Ireland's farmers.

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