The fourth annual Northern Farming conference attracted a record audience of 330 at Hexham mart. Organisers had to stop taking bookings as the conference room was full. Mike Bridgen reports

ARABLE farmer and contractor Colin McGregor spoke of a definite trend towards wetter weather.

From his 300ha farm near Coldstream, he farms a total of 3,300ha under a range of agreements across the north of England and the Scottish Borders.

His weather records showed that in the 1980s, the farm’s average annual rainfall was five and a quarter inches.

This has now increased to eight and a quarter inches.

“There is a definite wetter trend coming through,” he said. “Three of the last six harvests have been wet, so it is just another challenge.”

Mr McGregor showed a photograph of flooding at Coldstream Bridge in August 1948, after a third of the annual rainfall fell in six days.

He said: “There has always been climate change – it’s nothing new.”

Mr McGregor was one of a series of inspirational farmers who told delegates how they managed risk and built resilience in their own operations.

He said introducing accurate steering systems had led to a saving of £10 per acre.

Modern communications were also important – mobile telephones allowed instant contact and decisions, while social networks brought farmers from around the world together. “One of the big problems for many farmers is the lack of 3G in rural communities,” he said.

Yorkshire arable farmer Guy Poskitt told how he had become one of the UK’s largest carrot growers by identifying his market and seeing how his customers had changed.

He had managed risk, expanding his operation to 6,000 acres from the north of Scotland to south of England, as well as in Yorkshire and Lancashire.

He said: “The differing climates extend the growing season for us, but this can also bring additional challenges.

In Yorkshire, there is the chance of drought and in Lancashire, the opposite, but properly managed they can both work well.”

But it was also vital to have the right people working for you. Mr Poskitt employs 280 and all root crops are washed, packed and distributed from one site to ensure control. Turnover now exceeds £32m a year.

Two years ago, Lancashire dairy farmer Ian Pye received a Nuffield Scholarship to look at world milk markets to see how dairy farmers could secure a future in volatile markets.

In America, he learnt how using hedge funds could benefit the dairy sector. “I realised that dairy farmers who use hedge funds know their exact costs every day, every week and every year, which is great for expansion,”

said Mr Pye.

Simon Bainbridge, Northumberland Monitor Farmer, said his biggest success had been the use of red clover grass in feeding his livestock. “In my opinion, red clover is the king of all forages,” he said. “It has yielded 16 tonnes per hectare for me, providing the opportunity to used grazed grass all year round.”