DESPITE the uncertainty of Brexit farming will go on.

That was the message from the organiser of the first ever Three Counties Farmer Farming Awards announced at the Three Counties Farming Conference.

Sue Griffiths was overwhelmed by the support for the new awards from farmers and members of the agricultural industry who gathered at the Three Counties Showground in Malvern for the annual conference on November 15.

Hereford Times: SHOP talk: A call has been made for farming unions and the main supermarkets to meet for talks over the future of the dairy industry.

Farming isn't just a job, it's a way of life

The conference theme was What does Post-Brexit Britain offer for our food and farming opportunities?, and looking to the future Sue said that despite the uncertainty of Brexit, farming will go on.

Commenting on the awards after listening to inspirational speakers at the afternoon conference, Sue said: “We need to find a way forward. The Farming Community Network said today that farming is not just a job, it’s a way of life, and that will continue.

“The awards recognise all the effort and hard work of individuals. There is a massive appetite for people to get engaged and nominate their agricultural friends, family and colleagues. Farmers can put themselves forwards too.”

She added: “Farming is an under-recognised sector. The hard work involved is not always recognised and understood. This is an opportunity to actually praise and acknowledge and give some recognition back.”

Three Counties Farmer, the industry newspaper for Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, is working in partnership with the Royal Three Counties Show to stage the awards.

Sue and the rest of the magazine’s team will return to the showground on the evening of June 13, the eve of the Royal Three Counties Show, where awards in 11 categories will be presented at a special gala dinner.

Hereford Times: Tourism: Yorkshire Farming Museum

Awards will be presented for pig, sheep, poultry and arable farming, among others

Categories include the region’s iconic fruit, hop and cattle farming. Awards will also be presented for sheep, pig, poultry and arable farming, as well as for sustainability and diversification, family run farms, young farmer, farming hero and farming contractor.

Funds raised during the evening will go to farming charity, the Addington Fund, which helps find homes for farming families that have had to leave the industry.

Commenting on the awards at the conference, Three Counties head of shows Diana Walton said: “We are delighted to be able to partner with Newsquest and provide a first-class facility to host the awards evening and support the charity, the Addington Fund, who work tirelessly for the farming community.”

She added: “The awards are important as they recognise that agriculture is a hard industry and people work very hard. Farmers are not always the best at singing their own virtues.”

Farming ambassador and Countryfile presenter Adam Henson, who chaired the evening conference, announced the awards, which are also supported by headline sponsor, Harper Adams University, as well as the Countryside Restoration Trust and Western Power Distribution.

“It’s a chance to throw the spotlight on farmers and farm workers who go about their work quietly and diligently. Often they are unsung heroes,” said Adam.

“It’s a brilliant initiative to celebrate farmers’ success in the Three Counties,” he added.

Kicking off the evening conference, NFU president Minette Batters said Brexit, then 134 days away, was about risk, change and opportunity.

Hereford Times: Farming news and comment

Minette Batters said described the Agriculture Bill as a "really good Bill"

She said a ‘no deal’ would have “huge, catastrophic consequences” with months of access lost to the EU for meat producers as well as trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms, EU tariffs, the threat of a unilateral import tariff, technical restrictions on EU trade and disruption and delays on the borders.

She described the Agriculture Bill as a “really good bill” that gives government flexibility but stressed that food needed to be at its heart.

The conference also heard how the importance of food is being flagged up in a major NFU project bearing the catchline: United by our environment, our food, our future.

“We recognise that farming doesn’t resonate with everyone. We have to look at it through the lens of environment and the lens of food,” said Minette.

In a challenge to MP and chairman of the EFRA select committee Neil Parish, she said: “This country has never felt more politically homeless. We were promised less regulation and more money so you can see why farmers thought Brexit was hugely appealing.

"But everyone who drove that agenda is now off and at the moment I can see us crashing out. How can you corral people to ensure we get the best deal?"

Neil said he would “redouble” his efforts but added that clarity on Brexit negotiations was in short supply.

“Britain produces great quality, highly traceable food. It’s very sustainable and safe to eat food – that’s what our consumers want. All we need now is to get a deal and get on with it.”

He predicts, with his 10 years’ experience of the EU, that the current deal will not go through with its “current arithmetic” but that there will be another.

“I don’t want to see us crash out,” he said.

Sheep farmer and head of farming at the Soil Association Liz Bowles was upbeat about the opportunities for farming post-Brexit.

“We need farming to thrive while delivering an environment we can be proud of that contributes to the health and well-being of the nation.

“We have a chance to bring together security, food production and the health of the nation,” she said.

Organic food has been in growth by up to seven per cent for the past six years, and contrary to criticism that organic farming will not feed the world, researchers in Europe are finding it can.

She conceded that yields would be lower but said 20 per cent of our food is currently wasted and our diets contain too many calories.

Hereford Times: Fred the Fruit coming to Yeovil?

Liz Bowles, of the Soil Association, said people would be eating more fruit and vegetables and less meat

“We need to focus on the negative consequences of or production systems. By moving to more agro-ecological farming systems we can feed ourselves and have as much food to export and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 42 per cent.”

She said that would mean eating more fruit and vegetables and less meat (white rather than red) and using less synthetic fertilisers.

She stated: “Our diets are changing anyway. As farmers we need to produce what people want, rather than what we think they want.”

The Three Counties Farmer Farming Awards will be officially launched in the new year.