Sentry conference: Farming can lead the way out of recession

The 2010 Sentry conference will ask whether farming can lead the economy out of recession and back to prosperity. Farmers Weekly looks at what’s in store.

The government’s chief scientific adviser Sir John Beddington, called it a “perfect storm” – the confluence of climate change, increasing population and concerns for food security. Add in the global economic downturn and the shortage of funds to correct the situation and some commentators say we are heading for disaster.

There are signs – whether genuine or temporary – that in some sectors of the economy the worst may be over, but recovering from the build up of bank bail-outs and multi-national debt will take many years.

At first, farming appeared to be relatively immune from the worst of the problems, not least because the first signs of Professor Beddington’s predictions were beginning to show themselves. Commodity prices increased and consumers were forced to pay more for food. It didn’t last because when farmers responded by expanding production, prices collapsed, although not to the levels they had plumbed previously.

Most observers believe the fundamentals that caused food prices to rise are still there, that they will soon be re-established and farm commodity prices will increase again. Even DEFRA’sHilary Benn, who had been in the habit of repeating his department’s long standing mantra that there was no food security crisis nor was there likely to be one, has changed his tune.

These days most of his speeches contain phrases such as “UK agriculture should produce as much food as possible” and his minister in charge of agriculture, Jim Fitzpatrick, has even gone so far as to forecast that “farmers will once again be heroes”.

The 2010 Sentry conference will explore what such statements mean at farm level and how the industry can respond in a sustainably way. It will discuss, in the context of Prof Beddington’s “perfect storm”, whether farming might be the first industry to regain genuine and long lasting prosperity.

Speakers spotlight

Harold-von-WitzkeProfessor Harald von Witzke holds the international agricultural and development chair at Humbolt University, Berlin. Previously he has worked at the University of Minnesota and Gottingen University, Germany. He has written papers on a range of agricultural topics but the emphasis of his current studies are world trade, climate change and food security.

Bill-NortheyBill Northey is the Republican Secretary for Agriculture for the State of Iowa and a fourth-generation farmer on his farm near Spirit Lake. His electoral platform for Secretary of State included expanding farming opportunities in renewable energy, promoting conservation and stewardship, and telling the story of Iowa agriculture.

patrick-wallProfessor Patrick Wall is Associate Professor of Public Health at University College, Dublin, which hosts the Irish National Nutrition Centre. He was the first chief executive of the Irish Food Safety Authority and has also chaired the European Food Agency. He advised on food safety at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He is a qualified veterinarian and human doctor.

Little,-JulianDr Julian Little is chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council – an umbrella group for the agricultural biotechnology industry in the UK. It promotes the role of biotechnology in sustainable agriculture and encourages the sharing of research. Julian is also UK communications and government affairs manager for Bayer CropScience.

Mark-PriceMark Price is managing director of Waitrose and presides over the growing number of Waitrose shops within the John Lewis Partnership. He has held a variety of positions within John Lewis and Waitrose and is the current president of the grocery industry charity, Caravan, and chair of HRH Prince Charles’ Rural Action programme.

poul-christensenPoul Christensen, CBE is acting chair of Natural England. He is also senior partner in a successful dairy farming business in Oxfordshire, managed by his son, David. Poul was the joint founder of the Tenant Farmers Association in 1981, chairman of the Milk Marketing Board in the late 1990’s and chaired the Rural Development Service which launched environmental stewardship schemes.

david-richardsonDavid Richardson is the senior partner of a family farming operation in Norfolk, a columnist for Farmers Weekly and a Trustee of Sentry.

Find out more

The Sentry conference: Can farming lead the way back to prosperity?

Wednesday 10 February 2010, Chilford Hall, Cambridgeshire

For more information go to or contact conference secretary Linda Linton on 01473 658058, email

The Sentry conference is sponsored by Agrovista, Bayer CropScience, Birketts, The East of England Development Agency, Farmers Weekly and NatWest.

See more