Leading innovation experts used the conference to reiterate the importance of ‘accelerating innovation and productivity growth’ to help businesses move away from original farming systems.
But farmers in the audience of the produce workshop said this type of innovation could ‘spell the end’ of small family farms.
Professor Ian Boyd, Defra chief scientific adviser, said: “If you look at the farming system overall – if you actually analyse it – we find about 20 per cent of our farmers produce 80 per cent of production on 50 per cent of the land.
“Now that 20 per cent is doing a great job – a fantastic job. The other 80 per cent is where a problem sits.”
But small family farmers in the audience questioned the idea, suggesting the ease of prof Boyd’s suggestion to ‘unlock’ the remaining 80 per cent was the ‘essence of the problem’.
Chris Jeffries, sheep and grassland farmer, Tonbridge, said: “How do the 80 per cent bring themselves up when those 80 per cent often tend to be smaller farmers, lack profitability, fewer workers, are tired and have no time?
“There is no time to innovate and no funding for innovation.”
But Jake Freestone, Overbury Enterprises farm manager, added: “Innovating can cost you some money, it does not always work the first time you do it, but actually that is part of the persistence you need to run alongside your innovation.
“Innovation often has unexpected benefits.”