We are all bombarded with invitations to conferences and seminars, many land up in the bin or the digital trash can. Reasons for rejection are multiple but often down to other time presssures or quite simply the line up of topics and speakers just doesn't spark any interest. This one was different so an easy one to accept.

The sessions were chaired by Ben Briggs from the Farmers Guardian who not only kept the conference running to schedule but also managed the whole day very well. When the Q&A seesions took place Ben kept things moving and on the odd occassion when the audience didn't have a question to hand Ben stepped in.

In the mornings first session we had three papers.

Toby Reich, VP for sales at Kisanhub started with a talk on Digital Connectivitry and Transformation in Land Management. The key message for me was that the digital world is moving at an increasingly quicker pace and that the innovators and digital leaders will continue to introduce ideas and solutions. 

Tim Hopkin introduced The Land App (https://www.thelandapp.com)  which he developed from his own frustrations in not having access to digital data and information which was easily accessible, easy to edit and use and easy to share. He has developed the app with a number of key partners including the OS, the Land Registry, Natural England and DEFRA amongst others. Being a long term advocate of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) I really can see this product being a great success. Importantly it will allow many who don't have access to digital data and from that make good decisions for the farm or property.

Ben Pugh is the Managing Direstor of Farmdrop - the ethical grocer - a relatively new company whose concept is "farmer to customer". What was very interesting is that the grower gets a much greater margin which has to be good news given the pressures many are under from other sales outlets. The app and website (https://www.farmdrop.com/london) are slick and look easy to use. Ben explained that not only is the app and web site important but also the other systems which support the growers and distribution. I think there were plenty of people in the audience who would be ordering from them next week. At present they serve London, Bristol and Bath.

After a coffee break we were in for the second session.

First on was Kevin Norman from Velcourt. Velcourt are long established and a well know agrobusiness but I had no concept how visionary and cutting edge their business is. Kevin provided a number of examples of the latest technology and an insight of what is on the horizon. It appears that Velcourt spend signifciant sums on R&D from all aspects of crop production from genetics, plant health through to harvest. It was all very impressive. The one aspect I did consider is that will a large gulf develop between the leading agrobusinesses that embrace technology and the small farm business who don't?

Mark Coombs from the Brudenell Estate introduced us to Estate Asset Capture (http://estateassetcapture.co.uk). Estate Asset Capture is centred around creating comprehensive electronic records of your farm or estate. This covers everything from mapping, aerial imagery through having a paperless office. Mark's paper really struck a cord with me as I have developed asset managment systems not only in my previous corporate role but also for exisitng clients. From my experience it is staggering on just how poor some property records and information are. The all to common format is property owners having property records and information in mutiple formats and often just hard copy or worst case not recorded at all. Mark's company sets out to address this and with it create value for clients as well as increasing efficiency and reducing costs. I do have to add that it is often difficult to persuade clients to invest in "property systems", GIS still has a long way to go before being readily adopted in the UK.

The final morning session was by Jonathan Fish, Marketing Manager for the Chatsworth Estate. Mark's key message was you need a co-ordinated approach and really be on top of all aspects of how you interface with your customers. Quality not quantity is fundamental. A number of examples were given on how Chatsworth approach marketing and how they carefully manage content from their web site through to social media. Whilst many have yet to embrace Facebook or Instagram Mark explained that they form a key part of their marketing and are used to reach a wide audience. One aspect I hadn't considered was that the Estate have used social media effectively to keep customers informed when on the rare occassions events don't go to plan. Social media is also used to monitor poor reviews and address underlying issues.

There followed a Q&A session which I won't cover here, followed by lunch. 

Afternoon proceedings were based on three workshops. I attended the Farm and Estate Managment Workshop and was opened by Dan Jolly from Yagro. Yagro (https://yagro.com) is a digital purchasing platform for the agriculural sector. The system provides the buyers (farmers) with online pricing for any number of commodites ranging from fuel through to fertizers and agrochemicals. The farmer uses the web site to seek quotes for a product  eg 5000 litres of diesel, and the web site provides a list of the quotes so that the product can be purchased competively. What was surprising was that for some products farmer A can at times be paying upto 4x the price that farmer B is paying. Many examples of significant savings were given.

There two other Workshops on Digital Marketing and Community Engagement which I can't comment on.

For the final session we were going to be addressed by the Right Honourable Margot James MP Minister of State for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport but sadly she had to cancel at I understand fairly short notice. I appreciate that it has been a busy week for "Government" and some quite key decisions but I did feel sorry for the CLA. I do have to add that (whilst this may not be a popular view) I find most Ministerial speeches are all to staged and bland. Inevitably someone will ask a tricky question which they simply will dodge or talk around. I doubt we would have learnt much.

Overall it was an excellent day, one of the best conferences I have attended for some time.

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