Making sense of NFU Conference 2023 – Christina Liddle

Christina Liddle

In this blog post, Future Farmer Christina Liddle reports back from her visit to NFU Conference 2023.

Springtime means lambing time for my family and I on our farm near Harrogate where we produce grass reared native lamb, but I enjoyed a change of scene recently, heading to the ICC in Birmingham for the NFU Conference.

I was lucky enough to attend this big industry event with the award of a Future Farmers of Yorkshire bursary.

Having not been to the conference before, I was unsure of what to expect.

Topical challenges

The conference, titled ‘Feeding a Changing World’ filled the room with mixed emotions, and gave me many things to think about and apply to our own farm business.

On conference day, newspaper front pages were plastered with headlines about fruit and veg ‘rations’ due to extreme weather abroad.

This, against a backdrop of global political turmoil, a climate crisis, and a growing population made me question why food security and safety is not at the very top of our national agenda.

The conference centred around the environment, and the impacts of the war in Ukraine, Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis have had on the world and its markets.

It is clear that as farmers, we want to invest in sustainability as the correlation between improved production efficiencies and the environment is widely recognised, but financial support is desperately needed to support data collection and to put actions into motion.

Politicians under the spotlight

With a general election looming next year, political parties are focusing on their manifestos.

Politicians were among the speakers and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer surprised me the most.

Sir Keir spoke with empathy and respect for British farmers and demonstrated understanding of the challenges the agricultural industry faces.

However, he did not lay out what agriculture policy could look like under his Party, nor did he give specific details on how this would be delivered.

The most striking conversation of the conference was when Defra Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey took to the stage.

She did not agree that current poultry and pig sectors are market failures. She did not agree any intervention was necessary.

It feels like Defra made some small steps in the right direction with recent announcements of the Farming Innovation Programme and Farming Investment Fund which will sit alongside the Environmental Land Management schemes, but these are nowhere near big enough, nor quick enough to make impactful change.

Overall, it feels there isn’t a joined-up approach between government and industry, with the industry crying out for recognition of the complex nature of agricultural supply chains and eligibility for financial support that other sectors have access to.

Beneficial for me and my farm business

The session I found most beneficial for our farm business was hearing from a panel of farmers who shared first-hand experiences of how they had reduced their farms’ emissions.

This put a lot of what we had heard throughout the conference into context and helped make it more manageable.

Throughout the conference, I met lots of new people and hearing from the politicians has given me more interest in agri-politics and the role of the National Farmers’ Union.

I was apprehensive about attending the conference dinner, but it was a wonderful evening and a great opportunity to speak to people working in other areas of the supply chain.

At the end of the conference, I went home with enthusiasm and a clearer idea of some potential next steps for our business, and I’d certainly encourage other farmers to apply for Future Farmers bursaries in the future.

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Future Farmers of Yorkshire Spring Debate 2023