Farmers have been told to accept volatility as a fact of life if they want to survive in a global market.
Nearly 300 delegates at the Northern Farming Conference at Hexham Auction Mart were yesterday told that falling meat and crop prices posed huge problems for the agricultural sector, but also provided opportunities for forward thinking farmers.
The event was opened by Robert Sullivan, partner at property agents Strutt and Parker, who pointed out prices in everything from wheat and rape seed to lamb and beef had been on a “downward spiral” for the last 12 months.
But opening speaker - HSBC head of agriculture Allan Wilkinson - said population changes around the world would mean volatility would now be common in the food market and British farming would only survive if it planned well to keep its cost down.
He said: “The main problem facing farmers is volatility,” he said. “This has become more prevalent in the past five years with weather being one of the main factors. On the demand side what has changed is not population, but affluence.”
He said many farms would face losses at some point but they would survive if they concentrated on the production costs.
“The profit is going to be made in the office, not on the farm,” he said.
Mr Wilkinson was followed by East Sussex dairy farmer Joe Delves, who urged those present to have a positive attitude and a clear vision of farming businesses.
Keynote speaker, Environment Secretary Liz Truss, said that she viewed farming as “a sunrise industry, with lots of opportunities” and added that she wanted to see reform of EU regulations on crop growing, pesticides and GM crops.
She also said she wanted to see protected status for heritage products in areas like the North East and that Defra was determined to eradicate bovine TB in the North by 2018.
The three speakers answered questions from the audience on a range of topics, including CAP reform, supermarket prices and the length of farm tenancies.
The morning session was then closed by award winning poultry farmer Richard Tulip, who runs Lintz Hall Farm with his brother Stephen, at Burnopfield, County Durham.
The Northern Farming Conference is a joint venture between the CLA, Strutt & Parker, Bond Dickinson, Armstrong Watson, Catchment Sensitive Farming and Gibson & Co Solicitors.