The South of England Agricultural Society’s 2023 Farming Conference will take place on Wednesday 1 November at the South of England Showground in Ardingly, West Sussex.

Led by BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today presenter Charlotte Smith, this year’s event will take a new approach by featuring an interview with two exceptional guests rather than presentations. It promises to “delve deeply into whether we can save the planet (from a farming perspective) or if it’s too late”. The traditional close to the conference will remain, offering time for audience questions, input and debate. 

Duncan Rawson, a Nuffield Scholar sponsored by the society who chairs the conference organising committee, said: “I don’t think anyone can argue that climate change isn’t making its consequences felt across the farming sector. From changing weather patterns to increasing society demands to farm more sustainably, the impact is palpable.” 

He added: “Agriculture is firmly in the sights of many as the cause of many of the problems we face when it comes to climate change and environmental loss, and to be fair, to a large extent, they’re right.  

“We’re now reaping the impacts of decades of government policies incentivising production at the expense of the environment.  However, it is often said that while the industry is a major contributor to climate destruction, it potentially provides many of the answers, too; that by changing farming practices and doing things differently we can save the planet and feed an ever-demanding population to boot.  

“But is that true, or is it too late? Everyone is talking about carbon zero, but is it achievable? We talk about biodiversity loss, but isn’t the damage irreversible now? Can we shed our reliance on artificial fertilisers when we have an obligation to provide affordable food to a growing population?

“The Society firmly believes the future is bright, but we also need to be realistic, which is why this conference and debate, at this time, is so important.”

This year’s guest speakers are Sue Pritchard, chief executive of independent charity the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission (FFCC), and Phil Jarvis, chair of Albanwise Farming and Environment. 

Sue’s diverse career spans leadership, strategy, culture and change. She has been a consultant, coach, researcher and writer and held positions as a non-executive director and chair of a local health board in Wales. 

With affiliations at esteemed institutions including Salford University, Leeds University, Ashridge Business School and University College London, she drives significant systems change through collaboration with public and private organisations, leading complex projects. 

She is an independent governor at the Royal Agricultural University, a CoFarm Foundation trustee and sits on several academic advisory boards. Sue manages a Soil Association-accredited organic livestock farm in Monmouthshire, prioritising conservation-focused farming.

Phil is a Professional Fellow of the Institute of Agricultural Management and chairs Albanwise Farming and Environment, overseeing Norfolk and Yorkshire estates. Their arable rotation includes sugar beet, cereals, oilseed rape, maize and potatoes, while Albanwise Environment manages diverse habitats such as wetlands, woodland, hedgerows and peatland. 

Phil leads The Voluntary Initiative, championing the best plant protection product use delivered through integrated pest management. He was formerly head of farming, training and partnerships at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton Project. His agricultural engagement includes National Farmers Union roles and completing an MSc in sustainable agricultural management. He also served on the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)’s Agriculture and Food Security Strategy Advisory Panel.

The society’s 2023 conference will run from 7pm to 9pm on Wednesday 1 November 2023. Those attending in person will be able to enjoy pre-event and post-event refreshments and networking opportunities and a wider timescale of 6pm to 10pm.