University plants seeds of debate with farming and food lecture series
By Andrew Merrell | 9th March 2020
In recognition of its 175th year the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) has begun a series of debates on the future of farming, food production and land management.
The Cirencester-based institution is using its birthday as the launchpad for a focus on the tipping-point at which farming finds itself post Brexit - a series of lectures sponsored by Gloucestershire family firm Creed Foodservice.
Richard Williamson, managing director of Beeswax Dyson Farming, which has a base in South Gloucestershire, gave the inaugural lecture.
The company, described as the largest farming enterprise in the UK, is itself wrestling with the battle to balance sustainability with productivity and quality of produce.
Mr Williamson, an RAU alumnus, spoke about farming business strategy to an audience of more than 200 people including students, staff, alumni, stakeholders, dignitaries, farmers and industry representatives.
The lecture focused on the new world facing British farming outside of the EU, covering issues including diversification, long term strategic planning, entrepreneurialism, carbon reduction, digitalisation, data integrity, understanding customer needs, the importance of marketing and non-reliance on basic payments.
"I think this is a time of significant opportunities," said Mr Williamson, who stressed that farming enterprises would need to be more professional and business-like, less opportunistic, and invest for the long term, taking some risk if necessary to do so.
"I'm optimistic for the industry. Farmers have always been able to adapt. This time however, it may be adapting even more than you have historically."
Professor Joanna Price, vice-chancellor of the RAU, said: "When the first cohort of students arrived in 1845, at what was then the Royal Agricultural College, they were there to learn how to improve farming productivity as Britain was changing from a rural to an urban economy.
"It is fitting that the first in our 175th celebratory lecture series should focus on the future of farming and how the industry can adapt so that 175 years from now it is thriving and at the heart of our economy."
The next event, to be held on Thursday, April 2, will debate with Dr Dieter Helm the future of rural estates.
Upcoming lectures throughout the year will cover topics including agri-tech and food security, with a heritage lecture planned for May when the RAU launches its new Cultural Heritage Institute in Swindon.
The series will end with the Bledisloe Lecture delivered by Helen Browning OBE, chief executive of the Soil Association, on Wednesday, November 25.
As well as Staverton-based foodservice company Creed other sponsors of the 175th anniversary series include Irwin Mitchell, legal services and financial planning, and Savills, experts in local and international property.
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