Date: 18th September 2017
Venue: Farmers & Fletchers' Hall
The Masters & Clerks Luncheon
On what must be one of his last official engagements before handing over, the Master was able to welcome his fellow Masters and many of their Clerks as well members of the Worshipful Company of Farmers to Farmers & Fletchers Hall. A guest list, that read like the great and the good of the Livery movement, included representatives of over 40 different Livery Companies and was clear testament to the popularity of this, now annual, event on the City Livery Company calendar.
This luncheon, with its captive audience of City Livery dignitaries, is the ideal opportunity for the Company to fulfil one of its key functions - to educate the City of London about the industry that goes on outside its ancient walls; its importance, value and current state-of-health. As has been common throughout his year, the Master took to the task with commitment and gusto.
The guest speaker, Mr Allan Wilkinson - Head of Agri-Foods at HSBC Bank, admitted to a passion for all things food and farming, that he said he had shared with the Master for over 40 years. He went on to speak about the significant changes that agriculture in the UK is facing with BREXIT on the horizon. And made the point that while farming might be almost the oldest profession on earth, it was one that was, if anything, even more vital today than ever.
Global population had doubled in the last 50 years alone, he told us. And farming has taken over just 12% more land in that time. And with the population set to rise to 9 billion by 2050, the pressure to grow more on less land and with no more water, is increasing exponentially.
He went on to point out just how important farming was in the UK. It is still the UK largest manufacturing industry and employs a huge 14% of the entire UK workforce. And yet we still only 60% self sufficient in food supplies - down from its peak of 87% in the early 1990s. Today we import food from every continent, even the humble Kit-Kat he pointed out requires ingredients from at least 6 different countries. Yet here in the UK we have one of the most skilful and competent agricultural workforces in the world - capable of producing food to some of the highest health and safety and animal welfare standards, seen anywhere.
He argued that agriculture will be the industry most affected by BREXIT but that it need not be a negative affect. If the UK Government can put in place the right regulatory and support framework for the industry after BREXIT, there is no reason that it can't be as successful in future, as it has in the past.
Speaking after lunch the Master welcomed his fellow Masters and their Clerks and thanked his guest speaker. He was, he said, equally passionate about the agricultural industry, and went on to echo in his own words many of the topics touched on by Mr Wilkinson.
Whilst the Worshipful Company of Farmers was he said, one of the 'Modern Livery Companies', the industry the Company represents was an ancient one. It is he continued, an important source of employment and we are the shapers, moulders, protectors and preservers of the British countryside. Never-the-less we have become disconnected from our consumers.
The public has little appreciation of what 'good food' really is, and even less of where it comes from and how it is grown. We consume more processed food in the UK than any other country in Europe. And in the way we live now we are creating a generation of children that has little or no interest in where their food comes from, or what farming is really like - and have instead an image of the rural idyll, that any farmer will tell you is very far from the truth.
He spoke passionately about the need to reconnect real farming and real food to the consumer and although he conceded, there will be less farmers in future than there are now, they will be even more essential to financial and physical wellbeing of our nation.
He finished with the rousing statement that Farming makes a Difference and so we hope does the Worshipful Company of Farmers.