First day of #ORFC18

Around 800 people descended on Oxford Town Hall yesterday morning to attend the 9th Oxford Real Farming Conference. This is my third time attending the event, but it feels just as exciting and in many ways just as groundbreaking as my first a few years ago. This year the ORFC is focusing on four distinct strands:

  1. Farm Practice
  2. Growing and Supporting
  3. Food Sovereignty and Brexit
  4. The Big Ideas

Particular congratulations and thanks must go to the conference organisers who have yet again provided delegates with a packed programme of sessions, with topics ranging from growing heritage cereals to valuing sustainability, animal welfare to permaculture and biodiversity to micro-dairying. An entire room is dedicated to Brexit and this year is also the first time that a Secretary of State for Defra has been invited to attend the conference, yet another milestone achieved for the ORFC.

Michael Gove MP and Zac Goldsmith MP pre-session (1)
credit: © Hugh Warwick

Yesterday, Michael Gove took part in a Q&A session chaired by Zac Goldsmith MP. Delegates in the room were given the opportunity to quiz the Secretary of State on a vast range of topics and although questions were clearly delivered with great passion, with the room occasionally erupting in to rapturous applause and cheering, the atmosphere was overwhelmingly measured and positive.

Following the Q&A I caught up with Nessie Reid (Programme Manager, ORFC), Miles King (People Need Nature) and Vicki Hird (Sustain) to debrief the session.

I will outline my own thoughts on Michael Gove’s speech in a future post. I need time to reflect on the myriad of comments and articles that have been written since it was delivered yesterday. I will also reflect on his responses to the questions asked at the ORFC. However, in general the response to Mr Gove seemed to be very positive although questions remain. The conference organisers are clear that we must wait and see what action comes from the statements made by Mr Gove, particularly regarding public payments for public goods, as a next step on from the existing CAP payments.

Yesterday I also spoke to Martin Lines who is the chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, which is being launched later today. NFFN is a group of more than 100 farmers across the country representing hundreds more who believe in ‘nature friendly farming practices’. They aim to provide a political voice for farmers who are committed to managing their land with wildlife in mind, as well as growing and producing food.

A full podcast will be available soon after the conference, with input from a range of delegates, speakers, sponsors and others.


photos credit: © Hugh Warwick

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