Annual meeting guest speaker George Freeman, MP (pictured above by freelance Kevin Milner) set out his vision for the role of scientific research in helping the future development of British agriculture and its potential contribution to an improved national economy.
Guild Members Ben Briggs (Farmers Guardian), Johann Tasker (Farmers Weekly) and Joe Watson (Press & Journal) reported on the speech, and here, Sam Hiner, a third-year journalism student from Sheffield Hallam University, reports on the event as a guest of the Guild:
The highlight of the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists’ annual meeting was a talk from Conservative MP George Freeman, the Government’s life sciences adviser.
The MP for Mid-Norfolk visited the Guild in the Tower of London’s armouries, where he delivered a presentation on the role of Agri-Life Sciences in the Government’s future economic plans.
An outline of a 10-year plan for the agricultural and food science industries, put together by Mr Freeman, the presentation detailed specific sectors which are vital to our economic growth.
He started by outlining his three key messages: “UK food and farming is a major player in sustainable recovery,” he explained. “This sector needs to be recognised; our agricultural research and food science is a jewel in our crown.
“The food and agricultural sciences sector has been neglected, yet it has the biggest scope for potential growth in today’s economy,” he continued.
He spoke of the intention to set up regional innovation centres, which will aim to provide training and also to set up demonstration farms where agricultural sciences can be tested and developed.
Speaking about his ideal outcome for the plan, Mr Freeman said: “In 10 years’ time when we are out of this crisis, I want the government to look back and say that the agricultural industry had a big part in the stabilisation of our economy.”
Investment was clearly an important theme throughout. Highlighting how we need to improve and compare to other countries, he said: “We punch well above our weight on academic leadership, but equally we punch well below when it comes to global investment.”
He made sure not to miss out the small time farming community, one that is easily overlooked: “This is not about one particular approach; some of this is about small-time, low-input farming.”
Having worked for the NFU for two years himself, Mr Freeman was keen to establish that link with his audience: “I come from a farming family and narrowly avoided a farm management career,” adding some humour to the occasion. “Nevertheless, I really think we there is a need to inspire young people to come into the industry.”
Sam Hiner (right) contacted the Guild asking for guidance with his dissertation: Agricultural Journalism in the 21st century – what’s its future? He was put in touch with IFAJ contacts Owen Roberts in Canada and Jim Evans at the University of Illinois, who runs the Agricultural Communications Documentation Centre. Both proved extremely useful to him, which illustrates what the Guild has to offer young people attracted to the profession and the international contacts available.
Sam plans to become a Student Friend of the Guild once details of this new category have been agreed by Council. He said ofter the meeting: “I thoroughly enjoyed my time in London and I met some people who I otherwise would not have had the chance to talk to. I think it’s good that the Guild is addressing student involvement and it was encouraging to hear how the Guild has taken an interest in students and younger people; I felt I really benefited from attending and speaking to Members and Friends at the event.”