Oxford’s Real Farming Conference


‘Conference Full’ says the website of The Oxford Real Farming Conference being held this afternoon as a counter-event to The Oxford Farming Conference.

The Oxford Real Farming Conference – which calls for a renaissance in food and farming – is organised by the Campaign for Real Farming and the Grass Fed Food Association. Oxford’s more conventional convention’s sponsoring patrons include Bayer CropScience, large food companies and a fertiliser company.

The manifesto of the Real Farming Conference starts with a clear message that explains why a renaissance is needed: the system is fragile and it doesn’t work.

“Our current farming methods are clearly failing. They are over-dependent on fossil fuels; they damage soils and deplete scarce water resources; they degrade everyday foods; they reduce biodiversity and squander precious wildlife; they pollute our global environment. They are part of a global food system that is at the mercy of speculators and is every bit as precarious as the world banking system.”

Chaired by Sir Crispin Tickell GCMG KCVO, speakers include: Graham Harvey, farming writer; Prof Martin Wolfe, agroecologist; George Hepburn, soil fertility specialist; Patrick Holden CBE, farmer and director of the Soil Association; Matt Dale, new dairy farmer; Tim Waygood, farmer and founder of the Agrarian Renaissance; Colin Tudge, biologist and writer; Will Edwards, pasture farmer and Dr Matt Lobley, sociologist and rural policy expert.

The UK Food Strategy

Today, by no coincidence, Hilary Benn launched the UK government’s new Food Strategy. He is due to speak at the Oxford Farming Conference.

Benn, the Environment Secretary, speaking on this morning’s BBC Breakfast, emphasised that the challenge to use resources better, and to conserve carbon, provides opportunities for British Farmers.

However, Benn’s ideas for change were thin on the ground. You just have to look at Hilary Benn’s pre-published speech on the Defra website which he will deliver to the conference tomorrow.

Later on the same programme, a spokesman for the NFU, Terry Jones said that technology is the key to using resources more efficiently.”I think that we need to be looking at smart technologies that reduce the impacts of the food we produce, through feeding, through breeding, through some quite new technology – anaerobic digestion – which effectively generates heat and power from animal waste.”

The Real Farming argument

On the programme at the OFC, there seems to be some potential for discussing proposals for big changes, with the speech ‘A new age for agriculture’ (by Nick Herbert MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and with talks about feeding the world (Oxfam), CAP refomr, and risk and resilience. But how much might the conference consider rethinking the systems?

Meanwhile in the Oxford Real Farming Conference you can expect a very different perspective.

“Though we are passionately committed to good science, we’re not convinced that new technologies are required to feed the world well.”

“The key to securing good food for all is rather the careful management of the world’s natural resources by well tried and trusted methods. What’s needed is the radical re-working of the very best traditional systems.”


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