FARMERS have been urged to consider how they can manage, rather than react, to the changes that are coming as a result of Brexit.

Speakers at the 2017 Northern Farming Conference highlighted key challenges that UK food and farming will face and shared how they are changing the way they farm in order to improve performance.

The conference attracted more than 200 delegates to Hexham auction mart.

Paul Temple, chairman of AHDB’s cereals and oilseeds sector board, said the organisation’s modelling work highlighted the impact on profitability under various trading scenarios post-Brexit.

Many farmers were looking at a significant drop in farm incomes, but under every scenario the top 25 per cent either survived or thrived.

Farmers should think how they could manage – rather than respond – to changes they face and implement “simple changes that make a big difference.”

As a first step, they should know and understand their business costs, make the most of farmer-to-farmer learning opportunities and tap into regionally-relevant knowledge exchange. Becoming more integral to the food supply chain was also a way to protect themselves.

Minette Batters, NFU deputy president, said leaving Europe offered the Government a unique opportunity to develop a bold new plan for food and farming that delivers for the economy, environment and public.

She said: “There has never been a greater need for a bold plan. For 43 years, food has slipped away from being a political priority. We are an island nation with 65 million people and growing, and it is absolutely vital we have robust food policy on the table.”

Making the case for continued funding for farming post-Brexit, Ms Batters said the £3bn that currently goes to the industry would run central government for two days. “So if we cannot make a case for those funds we are doing something wrong,” she said.

Getting the right trade deal was vital. “Trade is what will shape the landscape for years to come,” she said. “Europe is a key market, we have always said it from day one, and we need to have access to the European market.”

Sue Hayman, Shadow Environment Secretary, said farming was a key component of the economy, driving growth in rural communities up and down the country.

“Food and farming should be a clear strategic priority for the Government – one of the cornerstones of a broad industrial strategy,” she said. “There remains a clear need for a food and farming plan to grow more, buy more and sell more British food.”

The Brexit negotiating team must get the best possible deal. “We must not allow the UK to become swamped with imports of food produced to lower environmental, social and animal welfare standards to those of our UK producers,” she said.

Paul Caldwell, chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency, pledged to improve the service, promising a new era of transparency to help create a “world-leading food and farming industry”.

In his first public speech since being confirmed to the position in July, Mr Caldwell acknowledged that the RPA’s customer service had not always been as good as it could have been and understood farmers’ frustrations.

He was committed to more open dialogue with the industry and greater transparency, as part of the RPA’s drive to offer “the best possible service to farmers”.

Mr Caldwell said he entirely understood the importance of timely Basic Payments to cashflow.

Looking to the future, he said the move away from the CAP could give the UK an opportunity to move away from some of the rules that were “overly burdensome”.

Northumberland mixed farmer John Baker-Cresswell spoke about his own farm and his experiences working as a consultant to large agriholdings in the Ukraine.

He chose to keep his business broad, rather than specialist, so if something went wrong there was “another leg to the stool” to fall back on.

Harriett Wilson, senior agriculture manager for the Co-op Group, said their commitment to selling 100 per cent fresh British meat, will extend to frozen meat products in 2018.

She said: “I really believe there is a rewarding future for British food and farming.”

Andrew Robinson, Armstrong Watson head of agriculture and morning chairman of the conference, said farmers need to focus on what they can control, not on what they can’t.

Matthew Curry, head of farming in the Morpeth office of Strutt & Parker, chaired the afternoon session and said the day highlighted that farmers need to have a detailed understanding of their markets, revenues, costs and profits. “Improvement through marginal gains will be key to future success,” he said.