In the first week of January the annual Oxford Farming Conference commenced delivering three days of dynamic, open debate on the current issues that the UK food and farming sector face at present and in the future.
On reflection, three key themes stood out from the Conference that I hope will have a lasting impact on anyone interested in the current, and long-term, affairs of the UK’s food and farming sector.
1.After CAP, What next?
Reflecting on Secretary of DEFRA Andrea Leadsom’s address, the second day hosted the debate ‘After CAP, what next?’ inviting a variety of views to the table. Deputy Head of the NFU Minette Batters locked heads with George Monbiot on the future of subsidies, alongside Dame Helen Ghosh of the National Trust and Guy Poskett of M H Poskitt Ltd. What was most notable during the discussion was the conviction that as an industry if we are to thrive after we eventually leave the EU, we must all work together with the common ground we have to ensure our voices are heard during the nuanced process of creating an anticipated British CAP. There was also consensus that this would require an industry working closely with DEFRA, not against it (despite the no-show of hands from the audience when asked if they believe DEFRA is fully equipped to tackle leaving the EU...).
2.The industry cares about the future of farming.
New to the Conference this year, 15 top farmers were recognised as emerging leaders of the industry and invited to attend the conference. The emerging leaders of agriculture are already driving the change that we are now seeing in the industry and deserve to be recognised for the pivotal role they are currently playing.
By hosting such an initiative, the industry was announcing its commitment to the long-term security of its future through supporting and fostering an environment to accommodate the best talent in food and farming. It was also a sincere recognition that if we do not take responsibility for recruiting the future of food and farming, there will be a host of consequences for a growing world population and resource depletion.
3.The world is your market?
We saw two great examples of how the British brand was a powerful tool in the global marketplace. Both http://www.mashdirect.com/ and http://stocksfarm.net/hops/ used their British provenance to represent British and Irish farming on a global scale. Following the recent announcement by the PM, the uncertainty still remains on just how positive a ‘hard Brexit’ will be for the agricultural industry. Yet the Conference addressed these uncertainties through the stories of these two businesses, accompanied with an engaging round of questions and answers addressing the realities that we face as more decisions are made.
The theme thrive or survive powerfully summarises the life of many – if not all - in the food and farming sector regardless of what that role might be. The sort of people that the sector attracts are problem-solvers, innovators, and pioneers that are constantly pushing the boundaries of technology and human capabilities to fulfil the valuable roles they play in feeding the world sustainably. Increasingly these people are entering the industry from a non-agricultural route; see two of our graduate trainee’s blogs as great examples http://bit.ly/1L6lypM and http://bit.ly/2iJrbj8 . With the growth of open innovation encouraged by business cluster organisations such as http://www.agritech-east.co.uk/, it’s as if the industry has gained a second wind of determination to go beyond just survival mode. Everything is suggesting that as individuals and a part of organisations that we are committed; I just hope that this energy and motivation will continue on into what will no doubt be a challenging and eventful year ahead – frankly, we have no choice.