Spring Conference 2021
Rothschild & Co Wealth Management
In our recent Spring Conference, we were joined by John May, CEO of John Deere, and a panel of industry experts, to delve into the world of food and farming. Taking a closer look at the history of food, the global food system, and the challenges of sustainable agriculture, our guests discussed how we might innovate and adapt our current practices, to produce, consume and live in a more sustainable way.
John Deere, in conversation with Helen Watson
We have held John Deere in our portfolios since 2014 and were delighted to hear from their current CEO John May, who provided a fascinating overview of the company’s 184-year history, explaining how their continual innovation has enabled them to balance sustainable practices with strong economics. From the first tractor, to the introduction of chemical and bio-chemical crop treatment, to the most recent steps towards digitisation and AI, every technological milestone has kept John Deere at the cutting-edge of the agricultural industry.
People are also an integral part of John Deere. During the pandemic, John visited factories and reassured employees about the plan for staying open safely. They are also increasingly committed to diversity, encouraged by the need to hire different types of people and talent to improve the technological expertise of their workforce.
Describing John Deere’s core strategy, John emphasised the inseparability of positive environmental impact and good business. For systems and practices to be impactful they need to be both sustainable and financially viable, such that customers buy into these and thereby maximise the impact that such processes can have. Looking to the future, John Deere maintain their commitment to innovation, recognising the need to be the disruptor in the industry rather than the ones being disrupted.
The future of food and farming, hosted by Sheila Dillon
Hosting a panel discussion on the future of food and farming, award-winning food journalist Sheila Dillon was joined by author and food urbanist Carolyn Steel, who presented a compelling history of our relationship with food, and how food has shaped the world.
Carolyn described the ‘urban paradox’, where we reside in cities but eat from land that is increasingly further away, calling into question where we really dwell. As cities have grown this paradox has only increased, which, exacerbated by a global food industry which largely prioritises the supply of cheap food above all else, has serious implications for the health and sustainability of our planet and ourselves.
Carolyn and Sheila were also joined by Professor Tim Benton, Research Director at Chatham House, and Patrick Holden, farmer and Founder of the Sustainable Food Trust. Tim exposed the oxymoron of ‘cheap food’, explaining how, even though food can be cheap at the point of sale, this manner of production and consumption has significant costs throughout the rest of the system, both economic and otherwise. Patrick similarly highlighted the issue of false accounting in the agricultural industry, where short-term costs and profits are prioritised without consideration for carbon emissions or public health.
All three panellists emphasised the need to build a better food system, one that appreciates the true value of food and the planet. For Carolyn, fundamental to the question of how we eat is the question of how we live. Once we view society through the lens of food, and understand how food shapes our world, we might be better equipped to eat and live in a fairer and more sustainable way.