Friday, 4 May 2012

Outlook offers glimmers of sunshine for UK agriculture


On Wednesday, almost 200 representatives of the beef, sheep, pig and dairy supply chains come together to hear expert opinion on the future prospects for these sectors at the 2012 Outlook Conference in Westminster, organised by AHDB’s market intelligence team.

First to present was Allan Wilkinson, HSBC’s head of agriculture, speaking about the wider economic climate. It will come as no surprise, in the week in which it was announced that the UK had re-entered recession, that it wasn’t great news, with talk of debt-burdened consumers and the corporate sector lacking confidence. However, the cloud did have a silver lining, as he was positive about the opportunities for agriculture particularly in terms of the export market, and praised UK farmers for being in good shape and having done plenty to modernise.

Allan was followed by Giles Quick of Kantar Worldpanel, who focussed on the consumer and retailer perspective. He opened with some encouraging statistics about the UK grocery market: 84.3% of households buy red meat and people consume it at an average of 200 times a year, making it a fundamental (and growing) part of the UK grocery trade.

However, he went on to paint a more subdued picture of the consumer position, saying that confidence is at a very low ebb – the bounceback after the last recession wasn't strong and has fallen again with the latest economic news. It’s not all bad news though, people stay in more in times of economic uncertainty, offering a great opportunity for meal deals, and they’re also more likely to be looking out for ‘number one’, which translates into a desire to buy British and buy local.

Giles ended his presentation with some rousing words for the audience: “You are incredibly strong and powerful, you are the cornerstone of British cuisine. Without you we are eating pot noodles!”

Finishing off the main session was AHDB director of market intelligence, Ken Boyns, who discussed the impact of commodity prices and the challenge of continuing to increase supply to feed the growing population – 40 years ago we had the equivalent of two football pitches of land to produce food for each person, today that has been reduced to only one. He also stressed the importance of technology and how our UK farmers must be able to embrace this to avoid being put at a competitive disadvantage.

In conclusion, much like the weather we’ve been enjoying recently, the outlook was very much a mixed bag, with some glimmers of sunshine making a pleasant change from the economic gloom.

It was really pleasing to see so many different parties represented at the event and working together towards one common goal – a sustainable future for the livestock and dairy sectors.

Anyone who missed the event and would like to see the presentations can download them here.