No fewer than four Guild members and a Friend of the Guild took part in a Networking Event for members of the European Network of Agricultural Journalists (ENAJ) hosted by the European Commission’s DG Agri department in December.
From left: freelance photographer Kevin Milner; Guild chairman and ENAJ representative Adrian Bell; Jo Pugh, communications officer at the National Sheep Association; Trevor Clarke, who edits the newsletter of the Worshipful Company of Farriers; and Farmers Guardian reporter Olivia Midgley.
The Guild group rubbed shoulders with European policymakers, influencers and fellow journalists, took part in a conference with agricultural commissioner Dacian Ciolos and visited an exhibition celebrating 50 years of Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy.
“The trip to Brussels gave a really interesting insight into how different member states are fighting various elements of the current CAP proposals,” says Jo (pictured left). “From Spain being worried about vineyards to Latvia arguing over average payments per hectare, it was fascinating to see how different the UK’s concerns are to those of other countries, and underlined just how difficult it will be to get consensus on the policy.”
Olivia Midgley reported on speeches and comments from the leader of the European Council of Young Farmers, the head of European policy at WWF, and the secretary general of Copa-Cogeca, the European farmers’ organisation (use the links to read her reports).
Jo added: “The trip was a great opportunity and I’m grateful to the Guild and ENAJ for facilitating it. I’d encourage other members to take the chance to travel overseas with the Guild – but remember, the Europeans think two hours is a short lunch break; it’s a wonder they get anything done!”
The National Sheep Association magazine carried an article resulting from Jo’s visit and Guild member Kevin Milner took the opportunity to add a number of speaker and setting images for his portfolio. They are available to view and purchase here.
In January, Matthew Sharp (pictured second left, back row) travelled across to Brussels as the Guild’s representative on an Under 35s ENAJ facility visit to learn more about the workings of the European Commission.
“It was a great trip and very useful – it certainly opened my eyes somewhat,” he says. “The places we visited were very interesting and it was also great to get an insight into the Belgium culture on a night we had free; fantastic buildings, food and people.”
On day one, the young journalists’ group met Guild member Roger Waite, EC spokesman for agriculture (right), who gave a general overview of the commission, parliament and council.
“It was then an early start on day two for a visit to the European Parliament buildings to learn the roles of these three bodies and it was fascinating to find out exactly what happens in Brussels and how the administration is structured,” says Matty. “It was also interesting to see how many people are employed there – it makes you wonder how different Brussels would be, both socially and financially, if the commission wasn’t based there.”
Day three took the group to Belorta auction house. Formed in 1994, Belorta is the merger of Mechelse Veilingen and Cobra auction houses and is now the largest vegetable co-operative in Europe. It boasts the largest chicory auction and had a collective turnover of at least $300 million in 2012.
Nestled in a mere 50ha site, the auction house has 25ha of buildings with 12ha dedicated to research. Its fairness, scale and efficiency would rival many businesses both in and out of the agricultural and horticultural sectors.
Of its produce, 70% of the volume is exported, with Germany accounting for 55% of that; France at 20%, the Netherlands 10% and other countries such as Russia, Spain, Italy, Japan, UK and Canada making up the final 10%. Of the 30% of overall volume left, this is marketed internally with a 75:25 split going to supermarkets compared to the wholesale trade.
Right through from the sale of vegetables to the delivery, efficiency is key. Six computer controlled clocks running six days a week enable buyers to select what they want at what price and quantity. This can be done from the auction house or sitting at home through its online e-commerce system.
Within an hour of purchase, goods are ready for export due to an army of forklift trucks moving vegetables to loading docks, all of which are done electronically through a computer based system, scanning barcodes to keep track of produce.
“Following a great lunch made with tomatoes sold through the auction house, we headed to Flanders to a 100-cow dairy, run by a husband and wife team,” reports Matty. “They milked red and white Holsteins and had an impressive farm set up.
“It was clean and tidy, and I’ve never seen cows in such good condition and health,” he adds. “I was amazed to learn they could run their whole business without subsidy; the milk price was 32 cents (28 ppl) and they just claimed the SFP because they could…but they didn’t actually need it.”
Part of the business was selling to ‘the plant’; the likes of Arla, Wiseman and such like, but the rest of the business came from their on-farm shop where they processed milk into yoghurt, cheese and other dairy-based products. Their products were tasty, well presented and most of all, simple. They also had an impressive robot pushing up the silage constantly.
“Many thanks to the Guild, ENAJ, DG Agri and the European Commission for a very worthwhile experience,” Matty says. “It was great to get a better understanding of Brussels and especially to see some agribusinesses that are thriving.”