The Upcoming Conference – with Sir Nicholas Bacon

Norfolk landowner, Sir Nicholas Bacon, is chairman of the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth (RASC). Here, he talks about its 30th annual conference – due to be held in Edinburgh in June 2024 – as well as the importance of getting the next generation involved in agriculture …

It was a huge disappointment to me, personally, that the coronavirus pandemic meant the 2020 conference – due to be held in my home county of Norfolk – had to be cancelled.

However, I am very much enjoying seeing the momentum build for what I am sure will be a memorable event in Edinburgh. It is especially important that the agricultural community gives it all the support it can, as the pandemic means it will be six years since the last conference.

What always strikes me is how people in agriculture, whether they are from Zambia or Singapore, have so much in common and can help each other overcome so many similar challenges.

At the very heart of the conference are delegates who represent agricultural shows and societies from around the world. There are some figures that show one-tenth of the population visit agricultural shows at some time and so they are incredibly important when it comes to imparting knowledge about farming and related industries.

It’s interesting to learn about the different formats agricultural shows take around the world, from the smallest rural event – with only a handful of competitors – to huge ten-day shows in Australia with millions of people attending and an enormous amount of business done.

We are especially keen to encourage applications to attend from those who fall into the under 35 category and maybe even consider applying for a scholarship place. Attracting the next generation is one of the biggest problems agriculture faces. It is so important that, at the conference, we get the younger generation’s perspective. Time and again they come up with the most fantastic ideas and us older ones are left thinking ‘we should have thought of that.’

Here in Norfolk, we farm all the usual things and have about 500 cattle – mostly commercially but with around 80 Sussex, which are a rare breed. We try and support the next generation and have enjoyed seeing a micro-dairy establish itself in one of our buildings. There is also a young chap who we are renting land to, enabling him to build his flock up to around 1,000 head of sheep. I do feel for the young, looking to get a foothold on the first rung of the ladder of farming. The sale of so many county council farms has taken away that opportunity to get started and the high sale price of farmland makes it near-impossible to be able to find any to rent. It is important, as landowners, that we do what we can to help. Farming’s future is very much in the hands of the young.