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LINCOLNSHIRE FARMING CONFERENCE (LFC) 2020

Last year Keith Loven provided a very insightful review of the 2019 LFC from the viewpoint of a non-farmer. This year it is my turn, and whilst I am not exactly a farmer, I do get my feet muddy sometimes! Last year was the 150 year anniversary of the Lincolnshire Agricultural Society and this was celebrated at the conference. This year, the LFC was all about how the Future of Farming is Now, celebrating that farming is experiencing significant change and challenges leading to opportunities not seen before in the industry.

Sam Watson-Jones from the Small Robot Company started the ball rolling with his talk on the fourth industrial revolution and the introduction of robotics into agriculture. He gave an insightful view on the work his company are doing, having just received over £2m in crowd funding for the development of their new set of agribots. He sees per plant agriculture as the future, as well as an end to monoculture. Essentially he is pushing an agenda of disruptive de-industrialisation, but especially at the moment with the weather continuing to play havoc, it is difficult to push an agenda which requires farmers to be excited.

Professor Simon Pearson from the University of Lincoln, then followed Sam. Simon spoke about future Lincolnshire farming systems which will be heavily influenced by Brexit, the climate emergency and disruptive innovation. Simon covered topics such as soil being the biggest carbon sink in the world, Riseholme starting a 5G test bed and locust swarm detection. As ever, a very thought provoking and interesting presentation. Sustainability is a key part of the University’s work, and the EPIC centre at the Lincolnshire Showground is a great example of this. Taking wood and then using it in building rather than burning it. The roof at the EPIC centre is a great testament of this.

Michael Horsch of HORSCH Maschinen GmbH then spoke with great enthusiasm and attention from the audience on another source of income for farmer: carbon. Carbon farming is indeed a hot topic presently. However, we have a lack of understanding of how to measure humus in the soil and what happens to it. The key is to lock in the carbon, rather than having a carbon source in the soil which is free, and therefore releasable to the atmosphere on ploughing, for example. Microbial carbonisation is a way to provide that and, whilst Michael could have spoken for much longer on the subject, he described how this would take farmers one step closer to providing carbon credits. A lively presentation indeed.

After the break there was some digression from the farming norm. We heard from Adam Banks – Nuffield Scholar. Adam spoke about his work farming insects for food at his farm. Adam provided figures to show that by 2050, 455 million tonnes of meat will be eaten each year. At the moment this would require about 95% of the surface area of the world to achieve. Insects are much more efficient at producing protein than say cows or chickens, but there are technical issues as well trying to get over the “Yuck” factor, which is apparently a scientific term.

Alec McNulty – British Sugar, Rosie Fox – ADM Agriculture and Ross Davenport – Cote Hill Cheese, then spoke about “young people in agriculture”. They each gave a description of their careers to date and talked about what was important for young people when thinking about getting into agriculture.

Lastly Stuart Roberts – NFU Vice President talked about farming beyond Brexit. He said that we are in for a long journey now that Brexit is done. There is not much else to say about that and that’s probably why Stuart didn’t labour that point. Instead he spoke about the challenges facing farmers with regards the weather changes, public perception of farmers, and the future technological challenges farmers face. The overriding message I got was that he was fighting the corner for farmers somewhere in a field near by…apparently!

Once again the Conference provided a broad range of topical sessions. Farmers are not a group to accept change fast, but these are indeed exciting times for farmers and farming.

Tim Fray

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