Farming Feature: NFU’s Peter Kendall flies FWAG for sustainable intensification of farming at Suffolk FWAG anniversary conference

The Suffolk FWAG's 40th anniversary conference at Trinity Park in Ipswich. Peter Kendall (NFU presid

The Suffolk FWAG's 40th anniversary conference at Trinity Park in Ipswich. Peter Kendall (NFU president) speaking. - Credit: Archant

Suffolk FWAG held its 40th anniversary year conference on Thursday. SARAH CHAMBERS went along

MORE than a year ago, farming conservation champion Suffolk FWAG itself became a threatened species when the national body behind it collapsed.

But this week, the organisation, which was rescued thanks to the determination of its staff, and a helping hand from Framlingham-based farmers’ co-operative AtlasFram, celebrated its 40th anniversary in style at Trinity Park conference centre in Ipswich with a stellar conference line-up which included National Farmers’ Union president Peter Kendall.

The farming heavyweight, who congratulated Suffolk FWAG on achieving the significant milestone, was there to put the case for sustainable intensification - the Holy Grail for the current generation of farmers, who are striving to deliver more produce but with less negative impact on the environment.

Mr Kendall laid bare the challenge: a population which in the UK alone is expected to grow by 4.5million over the next eight years.

“Standing still production-wise is not an option,” he said.

“Already we are only producing 70% of what we need or can produce.”

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The question which he put to delegates was: How do we produce more and produce more positive impacts for the environment at the same time?

The recent horsemeat-in-processed-food scandal has crystallised the problem. The opposing forces of cheap food drives and an impending cut in farm subsidies pitched against an expectation that farmers should be custodians of the countryside, protecting it from harm and leaving it in a good state for the next generation.

Mr Kendall has welcomed the way in which the scandal had helped the big brands to appreciate the importance of traceable produce, and persuaded them to strengthen their links with British farmers.

“To me, it’s a great opportunity,” he said. Farmers had “an enormous opportunity” but also faced “an enormous challenge” , he said.

“I do think there’s great progress now moving forward,” he said.

However, he is concerned about how Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform will affect British farmers. There was a “massive” amount of good work going on, but he was concerned that British farmers should not face more regulatory burden than other countries.

“Don’t regulate us and put green tape around our farming businesses,” he pleaded.

The goal was to find smart ways of doing things but at as least cost as possible, he told delegates.

At the same time, “massive intensification” of farming was needed.

However, that was about intensification of management and using precision farming to ensure nothing was wasted, he said. Renewable energy, from solar to anaerobic digestion, represented a “massive opportunity” to farmers.

Using feed and grain in the UK for our own stock made sense, he said. At the moment, just 40% of our pork is made in the UK but that could be double, or could even reach 100%, he explained. “Not enough of us brag about the voluntary greening that we do on farms,” he said. Despite all the challenges, it did not have to be a choice between intensification or sustainability, he said. “We can do both,” he said.

Duncan Sinclair, UK agriculture manager at supermarket giant Waitrose explained how the business doing very well, in spite of the gloomy economic outlook.

“We have come through the best part of four years of recession and as a business we have continued to grow,” he said. But he added: “It’s pretty tough out there.”

His business monitors consumer confidence, but he doubted that this week’s Budget had made an impact on that. It asked people how they expected their personal finances to change. Few saw them changing for the better. Shopping habits were changing, he said. People were buying cheaper brands and cutting back on what they were buying.

“It’s very much value driven,” he said. As a business they were combating a perception that their goods were more expensive by matching the prices on key brands at other supermarkets, he said.

The business was also working closely with its farming partners to improve the environment. Its ‘Pigwise’ scheme had been done in collaboration with Suffolk FWAG and pig producer BQP, he said. The good news was that a lot of these environmental enhancement schemes also made a different to the bottom line.

Also among the line-up of speakers was Julia Wright, an expert on agro ecology and food security, lawyer Richard Barker, Ron Stobart, of Morley Research Centre, Chris Stoate of the Allerton Project and Jim Bacon of Weatherquest. Roy Goodwin, of Syleham Hall, near Eye, took delegates on a brief journey through the history of Suffolk FWAG over the past four decades.

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