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  • Writer's pictureKatie Smith

NFU Conference 2019

Last Tuesday I headed into Birmingham to attend the NFU 2019 Conference at the ICC. I had never attended before so I had no idea what to expect but with some really interesting topics up for discussion I was really looking forward to it. Upon arrival, I signed in and met up with a few of the girls from the Lord Mayors’ Show it was so nice to be able to catch up with everyone again after the last few months. From here we headed to the hall to hear from Minette Batters and Michael Gove for the first session. Minette is always an inspirational speaker and was able to get some really hard hitting answers from Gove. I found this political session, with a clear focus on Brexit, to be very informative and made some sense of the current situation of where we are with Brexit and what we are yet to receive decisions on. I’m sure for many, a highlight of this session was when Gove provided the email address of Mike Rowe for anyone still awaiting outstanding ES payments – no doubt his inbox has been flooded with correspondence over the last week. The political session was drawn up on day two of the conference with lots of interesting questions being asked.

The focus of the next session was on where the future of food is going. With the focus of this year’s conference on “Our Food, Our Future” there was a range of sessions set to discuss where the market for food is going and how it will require a change from the producers, the retailers and the consumers. This first session left us with lots to think about, especially after Jack Bobo’s statement that we will need 60-100% more food by 2050 – but that it will need to be produced with less land and fewer inputs. It was interesting to hear theories about the future of supermarkets and the possibility of them becoming more of an environment to showcase food and give shoppers the chance to see, feel or smell their foods while the weekly shop will become more automated with less reliance on a physical trip to the shops. This was a really engaging and enjoyable session for me, as was the follow-up session on how we can get to this point. There was a reiteration that consumers still really do want to buy British produce and that our high standards play a big part in this – hence we really do need to ensure that our high food standards are kept up through this difficult time for British agriculture. Speakers in this session emphasised the importance of innovation in the food sector as this will be essential if we are to double our global food production in the next 30 years. 

The Workshop I had chosen to attend was “A Taste for the Future” with a focus on the future diet of our society and the impact it will have on the market for food produced by UK farmers. During this session, the impact of an increase of plant-based diets was discussed – the biggest reasons for consumers choosing plant-based diets are health and environment, which linked nicely to a point made by Judith Batchelor that “we don’t just need to produce more to feed our growing population, we have to waste less”. This session gave a lot of food for thought and definitely left me with lots to think about.  At the end of day one, we attended the wonderful dinner – as always the hospitality was second to none and the food was incredible. It gave a great opportunity to catch up with friends and discuss the different sessions we had attended. The comedian was excellent and captivated the room. After dinner, a large proportion of attendees headed out into Birmingham for a bit of dancing and a few drinks in Walkabout. It was great to see so many people out and meet some new faces too. 

The Livestock breakout session the next morning was a really interesting one for me, I particularly enjoyed Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss’ segment with a focus on the problems that TB and other diseases are causing the UK livestock sector. Lots of the questions that followed this session came back to subjects surrounding TB such as the badger culls and new ways of testing for the disease that haven’t yet had approval but could be key for continuing to lessen the impacts of TB and moving towards eradication.  Overall, my experience of NFU 19 was overwhelmingly positive. I would definitely encourage anyone who is able to go next year as it was a chance to learn a lot about areas you might not follow so closely otherwise and hear from an incredible array of experts in their fields. It really left me thinking and I felt inspired to look further into some of the areas that really captivated my attention. If you are interested in seeing any of the sessions I have commented on, lots of them are available to watch or read about here

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