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Stackyard News Mar 2011

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Food Security: the Most Important Issue of the Day

With the security of the food chain threatened by the nuclear crisis in Japan, continued unrest in the Arab world and today’s announcement that inflation is now at 4.4%, the 3rd Rural Practice Conference hosted by H&H Bowe could not have been better timed.

Keynote speaker Prof. David Hughes

Brian Richardson and Prof. David Hughes

As John Robson Managing Director of H&H Bowe commented:

‘We could not have known when we chose the day’s subject of Food Security in an Unstable World quite how pertinent it would be.  Our speakers today have given us a real insight as to how global events impact on our food supply and how this can have a very real effect on the advice that we are able to give rural businesses on a day to day basis.”

The aim of this annual event is to provide professionals such as accountants and solicitors who work with clients in the rural sectors with the latest information relevant to their industries.

Over 100 delegates attended the event hosted by H&H Bowe at Carlisle Racecourse to hear from leading experts on how these factors will affect food production and prices at local level.

Keynote speaker was Professor David Hughes, Emeritus Professor of Food Marketing at Imperial College London one of the world’s experts on global food industry issues. His overall view was that this current era of volatile prices will continue but it will be the impetus to herald a new era in global and consequently national food production.

He explained, “No-one knows exactly what will happen, last time we had high oil and food prices coinciding was 2008 and eventually there was a decline in prices. This time I think it’s more likely that this increased volatility will bring about a new era where focus shifts to national food security and local sourcing. Green issues will become mainstream with an emphasis on climate change and sustainability. For farmers this will mean using every tool in the box from best practice traditional farming practices to new hi-tech methods.

Initially farmers worldwide will respond to high prices by producing more which will cause the price to drop. Climate change will also increase panic buying for example when natural disasters cause a lack of harvest. Increasingly there will be a direct link between oil and food prices and I expect that the price of oil will rise to $200 a barrel. When we look at the region’s of the world where oil is produced, we can expect more periodic crises which will further drive instability.

At a local level, Cumbrian farmers will see world demand for their produce on the up so it would be hard not to be positive. However they do have to realise this is a global market and there are some big players, so in order to compete some co-operation may be required. There will be more impetus to explore green energy at a national level but it has to be viable for people to install at a local level.”

The conference covered a wide range of topics, starting from a world base with Professor David Hughes and David Tinsley the UK economist at the Clydesdale Bank,  bringing it down to a business level with Elaine McInroy giving specific advice in the area of tax planning for farmers and landed estates with the view of future-proofing their businesses. 

The afternoon concentrated on local issues again with Andrew Mercer, the Commercial Director of the Lowther Castle and Gardens Trust, giving delegates a full insight into the restoration of the ruined castle and 133 acres of derelict gardens to form a major new tourist attraction over the course of the next few years.  Neil Hodgkinson of the CN Group spoke to delegates about effective public relations, with particular reference to local newspapers and finally England’s most capped cricketer Alec Stewart, who was motivational in his approach to getting the best out of people, staff or sportsmen alike.

To conclude as Professor Hughes said: “Fundamentally, your business revolves around understanding what your customers, and your customers’ customers value and are willing to pay for.  Then, it’s simply a matter of delivering what your customer wants!”

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