Where do I start? An interesting venue, inside an old gas holder and transformer house that used to power a quarter of the city of Amsterdam? The event had quite an impressive recipe for success – take 62 students from across Europe (and further), a panel of speakers sharing global insight, big number statistics, street food made from local produce to fuel the delegates, presentations at one of Europe’s leading universities, retail tours and exhibitors from across the globe. I had a great time, can you tell?

The big stats – a PWC report launched just prior to the event discussed four possible scenarios for the Agri Food industry, its findings rang true with many of the debates and presentations from various speakers. A small sample – €1,264 billion spend on food and drink in the EU & there are 18 million employees in the sector across the European AgriFood sector. The global population is currently growing by 1 million people per week, but putting that into context in terms of global food demand creates some startling issues. For example historically India has been predominantly vegan or vegetarian but lately the population has increased its poultry and egg consumption to 62 eggs per capita (German consumption is almost four times higher) if the Indian consumption reaches German levels that will need 700 million extra hens. How would they feed that many hens? House them, manage disease, deal with the implications of increased waste?

Nic Jooste from the Cool Fresh Group dealt with the impact of the different generations and their perceptions of food, society and what that means in food terms. As the Indian and Chinese populations might be aspiring to a more animal protein based diet, the European Generation Z (Millennials) have enormous spending power and are embracing vegan or flexitarian (occasional meals including animal protein) diets as part of their social conscience. By 2020 this Generation Z group will represent 40% of all consumers and they are eating a lot more produce, how are we going to grow all of that? For once Brexit didn’t dominate conversation, the concerns were broadly the same with a variety of speakers identifying the need to invest in robotic systems to reduce reliance in migratory labour. There was a carefully worded quote in the PWC report around the changes in family structures, traditional food rituals and also in the labour market and leisure time… basically saying that across Europe there is the same issue with lack of labour for primary production, fewer people are sitting down to eat homemade meals and the way they live is changing, just like here.
Well I have been fortunate to be included in the Fruit and Veg PO experts panel that meets regularly with Defra. At our last meeting we were briefed on what the process for the next 18 months will look like. The process will be managed through the new Agriculture bill to be launched early 2018, a priority list will come from this consultation, the aim being to deliver stability for farmers, support in order to compete domestically and abroad and there assurances about an effective support system for growth and the environment.
There has been some indication of policy on environmental statements:

  • 1. How to support farmers – environmental outcomes through land management. A 25 year environmental plan instead of pillar 1 will set themes and framework
  • 2. Productivity – there was much discussion around the potential for PO schemes to be the delivery model for support as markets open up, ensuring we are as productive as possible. Skills, machinery, techniques etc to be supported by strategic, targeted investment with environmental benefits at the core
  • 3. Risk and volatility – intervention, crisis measures etc what measures should take the sector towards self-reliance? Support management of market volatility is key

I would recommend that everyone read the transcript of Mr Gove’s speech on 21 July, it has been titled ‘the unfrozen moment’, it’s very revealing in where his heart lies. www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-unfrozen-moment-delivering-a-green-brexit