Farm secretaries celebrate 50th anniversary with Suffolk showcase event

Kier Hall, left, Suffolk IAgSA member, with Amanda Runciman and Bev Marsh from the Scottish Borders,

Kier Hall, left, Suffolk IAgSA member, with Amanda Runciman and Bev Marsh from the Scottish Borders, who will be next years conference team when it's hosted in the Borders Picture: IAgSA - Credit: Archant

A national farm secretary conference two years in the planning brought delegates from all over the UK to Suffolk to hear how its farm businesses were diversifying and thriving.

Jeanette Dennis of Ashtons Legal with a working group at the conference Picture: IAgSA

Jeanette Dennis of Ashtons Legal with a working group at the conference Picture: IAgSA - Credit: Archant

More than 100 Institute of Agricultural Secretaries and Administrators (IAgSA) members from as far afield as Scotland gathered for the organisation’s 50th annual national conference from March 8 to 10.

It was a mammoth undertaking for the six-strong IAgSA Suffolk team headed by Jenny Pine, but they were delighted with how he packed three-day event at Stoke-by-Nayland Hotel Golf Spa and Lodges went.

It included workshops, speeches and tours, with professional development focuses including the Making Tax Digital programme, and legal issues relating to farm property, tenancies and employment.

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Jenny Pine. Picture:SARAH LUCY BROWN

Jenny Pine. Picture:SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Delegates heard from speakers including National Farmers’ Union (NFU) deputy president Guy Smith, Alastair Leake of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and journalist and film-maker Susie Emmett, who offered some engaging insights into how other nationalities viewed UK approaches to PR and marketing.

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The theme, under national chairman Sally Lemonius, was the ‘Bigger Picture’ and looked at farming businesses in the lowlands of East Anglia.

“This conference has been two years in the planning, but that time has flown by, especially last weekend, the culmination of all our ideas,” said Ms Pine.

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She and her team were “delighted with every aspect of the event” and “proud to showcase our lovely county to IAgSA members from all over the UK”.

Delegates listed to a presentation on farm diversification Picture: Jenny Pine

Delegates listed to a presentation on farm diversification Picture: Jenny Pine - Credit: Archant

“We had a jam packed programme starting agri-software workshops, marketing and property administration on Friday afternoon, presentations on Friday afternoon and Saturday and Sunday morning, plus a 50th anniversary carvery dinner on Saturday evening,” she said. “Stoke by Nayland Hotel did us proud and the event ran very smoothly thanks to their wonderful staff. There was something for everyone and – judging by the great feedback we’ve had – they’ll be coming back to see more of the Dedham Vale. We set out to show delegates ‘The Bigger Picture’ and I confident we achieved that.”

Melinda Raker of farm mental health charity YANA (You Are Not Alone) praised the ‘fantastic’ array of speakers and said she was “very honoured” to be included among them. She had received “terrific” feedback from the conference, which was “upbeat and enjoyable”.

“They were an excellent audience and easy to engage with, but the discussions afterwards were extraordinary. I actually felt very emotional when I left,” she said. “Those who spoke to me afterwards were so open - difficulties in farm offices, family members dying by suicide, poor support from the employers, poor communication, own personal difficulties, exasperation, no support for one juggling life as a carer and working.”

Jeanette Dennis of Ashtons Legal held two property workshops covering current issues affecting farms, including tenancies, letting buildings for non agricultural use, and general rules of law including sub-soil under highways and the hedge and ditch principle, as well as public access and public rights of way.

Melinda Raker of YANA at the conference Picture: IAgSA

Melinda Raker of YANA at the conference Picture: IAgSA - Credit: Archant

“The one area that got way more questions above the rest was public rights of way, especially on the loss of historic rights of way due to come in on January 1, 2026, but as not yet confirmed, which led me to advise all delegates to get farmers to deposit plans of existing public rights of way whilst they can so as to avoid a future problem,” she said.

She also took part in a three hour session on how farm secretaries can plan for change, including succession planning, and inheritance tax.

Ms Emmett stressed the importance of making the best use of every communications opportunity in farm businesses at her packed sessions.

“The challenges and opportunities that the groups came up with included proposing new ways of working, presenting the business to buyers or visitors, training new staff or going to interviews for new jobs,” he said.

Her keynote speech focused on the theme of ‘Could Do Better?’, using examples from Ghana, Kenya, Vanuatu, South Africa, Bangladesh and Syria.

“I have seen women and men in business doing rather better than we do here in UK. I chose themes such as nurturing young talent, valuing wisdom, attention to detail, respecting women in the sector, workplace hospitality, welcoming questions and simple unexpected acts of kindness. Just to mention a few. I presented it all to give them a lot to laugh at as well as admire,” she said.

Richard Anscombe, who chaired the IAgSA conference on Saturday, said it was “a great opportunity” to say thank you to Jenny Pine and all of the farm secretaries and administrators “with whom we have a very productive relationship”.

“It was a real pleasure,” he said. “I cannot remember attending a conference where the delegates were so engaged and interactive, all with tremendous humour too, due in no small way to the excellent presentations. Well done all involved from HFL Accountants Limited, Ashtons Legal, Wilson Wraight, and The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust.”

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