Oxford Farming Conference Report 2024
This year I was fortunate enough to gain a scholarship opportunity on behalf of Staffordshire YFC, funded by the Staffordshire & Birmingham Agricultural Society. The theme for the 2024 Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) being ‘The Power Of Diversity’ emerged as a beacon of inclusivity, highlighting the transformative potential of diversity in agriculture. Held from January 3rd to January 5th, 2024, this annual gathering attracted a diverse array of participants from across the agricultural spectrum, celebrating the richness of perspectives, experiences, and expertise within the industry.
On the Wednesday afternoon I made the journey to Oxford ahead of the first session that evening and the welcome reception, held at the history museum, and what an experience this was. It allowed me the opportunity to chat to fellow delegates ahead of the conference officially opening the following morning. Kate and I were also able to sign up to attend extra sessions outside of the programme, this further extended the experience and knowledge we took from the event.
Thursday also consisted of a session on regenerative farming from NIAB, explaining how soil is the most undervalued asset in the world, with over 40% of soil degraded even though it is the second largest carbon store in the world. By increasing the organic matter content of soil by just 1%, it increases the carbon holding capacity y over 160,000 litres.
The secretary of state was also present for the politics session where he announced the new ELMS’s schemes, and how there will be a 10% payment increase going forward for landowners.
Following the theme of diversity, the talk on food innovation addressed the gap in ethnic markets such as halal, as Muslims spend 3 times as much as the average consumer on meat. As well as this, there was also an eye-opening talk by Sarah Dunning, the daughter of the family who started the Tebay Services business 50 years ago. One sentence resonated with me, ‘there is no such thing as luck, it is where preparation meets opportunity’, and this is something I will carry with me for a long time.
Thursday also bought Princess Anne to the conference, with her giving a fantastic summary of the afternoon before making the journey to the Oxford university Debate Chamber. This year’s topic was ‘This house believes that farming for food is holding back nature recovery in protected landscapes’ and whilst some responses were very entertaining, it sparked a great debate.
We then headed to Christ Church for the post-debate supper, and what an experience this was. The layout of the dinner was what could only be described as similar to the dining hall of Hogwarts.
Friday morning then consisted of an opening session ran by ADHB, where Professor Jude Capper was present, of whom I have been lucky enough to work with on placement last year as well as alongside my dissertation this year. The panel discussed how we can work to push the message that meat is part of the recommended diet, and how 49% of young girls are low in iron as a result of following a poor diet. Furthermore, they addressed the inevitable approach towards carbon auditing on farm, and how there is no ;one size fits all approach’, but we must start to work towards this issue as an industry.
We then had the closing sessions on diversified leadership by Minette batters, and a panel session including Polly Davies, who spoke about the need to get new entrants into agriculture from diverse backgrounds.
The day was then drawn to a close with the final session from Mike Duxbury, the blind farmer, who was absolutely incredible and left the audience very emotional.
The 2024 Oxford Farming Conference celebrated the power of diversity as a driving force for positive change in agriculture. By embracing diversity in all its forms and harnessing the collective wisdom and creativity of diverse voices, the conference underscored the potential to build a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable food system for future generations.
I feel very privileged to have been part of this year’s conference, especially representing my home county young farmers. I would encourage anyone with a passion for the future of the industry to apply for the scholarship opportunity for next year and can assure you that you will not regret it. I extend my thanks once again to the Staffordshire & Birmingham Agricultural Society for making this possible. By Meg Beswick