Thursday, 26 February 2015

Ten Highlights from the 2015 NFU Conference

This review of #NFU15 (the trending Twitter hashtag!!) may appear light hearted and extremely simplistic.... it's meant to. In a world of information proliferation, this is what simplification looks like. The NFU will produce  a comprehensive summary and it will probably be out before this blog.  So here we go with the top ten conference countdown.

1. John Humphrys questioning of the politicians (and most of the audience) was skilfully handled by the consummate broadcaster, mixing humour, astute comment and observation and covered TB, Food, Europe and the plight of the milk sector.

2 The big hitters came early in the programme with Elisabeth Truss telling the farmers that she was 'keen' and 'determined' to help the industry. A more resilient industry with simpler EU regulations to help producers innovate were key messages. One hopes that the election doesn't upset that applecart. Phil Hogan was very impressive, reminding conference of some of the environmental and moral aims of EU policy and recognising that some simplification and changes were needed.

3. Justin Urquhart-Stewart, by far the most amusing presentation of the conference... full of wit and wisdom. I have ordered my red braces and tie!!!

4. Joanne Denney-Finch delivered the best idea of the conference 'a farmers market within a supermarket'.... nice. Joanne's delivery style is very good and it is a close race between her and Mark Grimshaw (RPA) as to who would be the coolest under pressure.

5 The Conference organisation continues to defy the odds in moving a 1000 rural stakeholders around the conference halls. From the opening video (no personal interest.. but I appear on a CFE clip after about 35 seconds) to the closing AGM there are very little stones left unturned. The Twitter feeds, e-mail summary, website stories and publications were a triumph for the conference team.

6. The dairy and milk sector quite rightly had much more exposure at Conference this year. The problems in global supply, Russia and a proper functioning markets are a warning for all the commodity sectors. (I should probably refer to them as food sectors and then drill down into brands to get some unique selling points, product differentiation and open up a whole new market place!!)

7. The worrying thing about science is science is a wonderful thing, their tops are made out of rubber and their bottoms are made out of springs. For every issue you will find a number of scientists who will contradict each other. So when we call for everything to be 'science led' or 'science based'.... whose science are we talking about,  nobody seems to @~**dy agree.  Neonics and TB being two classic areas.We've got a Grocery Code Adjudicator we need a Code of Science Adjudicator... I'm sure I read somewhere we just got rid of someone who could of done that job, the EU Chief Scientific Adviser!!!  Huw Irranca-Davies (Labour) insinuated that even if the science of the cull was favourable... it wasn't the right sort of science for his party.

8. Sir Henry Plumb was on extremely good form and Guy Smith was drew the audience to the fact that it was the 61st consecutive conference he had attended.

9. Mark Grimshaw probably just pips Joanne Denney-Finch as the coolest under fire, especially in light of the BPS payment system roll out. Mark has a very reassuring manner. However, I am just checking whether my grandparents ever worked at Bletchley Park (so I can crack some of the evolving system) and I might go for a week's 'work experience' at Ordinance Survey.

10. Finally an East Midlands highlight, the okey cokey played by Mark Leggott and John Humphrys over questions. Mark asked a question on food self sufficiency in the UK and when asked gave the answer as well. Bravo Mark... you might just get third place in the coolness under fire category. As for the up....down....up of the second non question....priceless.

The conference is informative, challenging and extremely well run and it certainly gives you the big picture on how UK agriculture is faring. As for catching up with friends, farmers, colleagues and business contacts, its invaluable.