The Oxford Real Farming Conference - January 2018
It is easy to live in an echo chamber in farming; a space where you only ever hear views of agreement or opinions close enough to your own that they are hard to disagree with. So when ponding which conference to attend I settled on the alternative option; the one I knew my father would disapprove of. But he, like very many farmers understands the importance of a ‘green Brexit’ and how feeding 65 million people in this country has contributed to the environmental damage we now need to put right.
My initial impressions of the Oxford Real Farming Conference? On first day we, the conventional farmers of the world were called ‘the bad guys’ and ‘poisoners of the earth’. There were strong calls from the conference floor to label food produced using pesticides & inorganic fertilisers rather than labelling organic produce. One particular speaker suggested a black tractor and a skull and cross bones symbol. I felt really rather uncomfortable and wondered what I was doing there.
It was not until I stopped listening to the loud noises and spent time discussing farming with some of the other delegates that realised the value of being there. The quiet majority of attendees just want to put the environment right.
It would be easy to suggest that some of the opinions being expressed at the conference were naïve and showed a lack of understanding about the practicalities of farming & delivering a marketable, profitable crop. But is this not our (the farming community’s) fault for not engaging more effectively; for not explaining ourselves to the public and for not being open about the challenges and risks we contend with? Lack of engagement is a grass roots issue, but it impacts perceptions, options and ultimately policy right to the top of government.
The quiet majority at the Oxford Real Farming Conference wanted change and wanted to do it with farmers not despite farmers. It’s time to lay down our preconceptions, swallow our pride and move on from that old grudge. We need to work together to put the environment right.