I have been CEO of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association since 2012, based in Norwich on the eastern side of Great Britain. We were established in 1847 and are one of the eight UK associations and societies with a ‘Royal’ prefix. We have 3500 members and run a number of agricultural shows and events at our 150 Ha showground, the biggest of which is the two-day Royal Norfolk Show, held in late June/early July each year.
We are a charity whose objective is, in summary, to ‘support agriculture’. Today, we do that mainly through the creation of events and activities that communicate the benefits of food, farming and the countryside to a wide range of people, including school-age children and young people.
As a not-for-profit, our events are designed to engage and entertain visitors through a range of activities and demonstrations – maintaining an interesting and diverse range of events encouraging messages about the rural environment and its relevance to the people of Norfolk. We’re also involved in facilitating and enabling knowledge exchange between and for those involved in farming and land-based education.
The challenges we face today are varied; at a practical level these include dealing with major public events (our show attracts almost 90,000 visitors) and making our assets work hard to allow us to meet our charitable objectives. Remaining relevant as knowledge is no longer power in today’s world but innovation, invention and ideas are. This informs how we communicate to new generations.
We now have four key events throughout the year – one for each of the seasons!
- The Royal Norfolk Show is the jewel in our crown – it is a traditional agricultural show that brings together all that Norfolk has to offer including livestock and equine competitive showing, food and drink producers, educational activities, retail and a huge range of entertainment for our visitors. The trick is to retain its heritage while constantly evolving.
- The Norfolk Spring Fling (held at Easter) focusses on the education and entertainment of families with very young children about farming and its relevance to their lives.
- In the autumn, we take the country to the city with an event called Norfolk HarFest (October). This celebrates the harvest season in Norfolk with exhibits including farm machinery, livestock and local produce brought together at Norwich Cathedral in the medieval heart of the city.
- Our newest event is the Norfolk Christmas Fayre – also held at Norwich Cathedral in December - showcasing local food, drink, arts, crafts and other produce in a unique retail experience which focuses on supporting local producers.
Add to this our involvement in the Norfolk Skills and Careers Festival, Local Flavours (a B2B food and drink event) and Agri-Tech week (innovation events) plus our support to other local organisations – we’re pretty busy most of the time! Finally, we provide the secretariat for the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth and in 2020 are organising and hosting the internationally renowned Commonwealth Agriculture Conference.
I could make my role sound pretty complex, but I don’t think it really is. At its simplest, its about leadership. This primarily concerns thinking about strategy and guiding my board with this. Turning strategy into action, communicating and then getting the very best out of the small team whose job is to make it happen. It’s in my nature to be hands-on when I need to be, but I try to encourage people to make decisions and take responsibility for themselves.
I could say Brexit, but….
The UK is not self-sufficient in food production; it imports 48 % of the total food consumed and that proportion is rising. Therefore, as a food-trading nation, the UK relies on both imports and a thriving agricultural sector to feed itself and drive economic growth. The big challenges we face are around farming sustainably and economically as we face the major structural changes that are going on in our own economy and globally. I’m very interested in circular economics and wonder if this might hold some of the answers – no surprise, it’s the topic for the Commonwealth Agriculture Conference!
Related, I think we have a big challenge in bringing well educated, prepared and enthusiastic young people into the agricultural industry. They, after all, are the future.
I hope to get to Agritechnica (www.agritechnica.com/en/)again in 2019 and other events in 2020.