Oxford Farming Conference Summary

Oxford Farming Conference Summary

Christopher Monk

Christopher Monk

Jan, 11 2024

Day one of the conference, Senior Consultant Christopher Monk attended and saw Steve Barclay (the new Secretary of State) announce an unexpected increase in Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) / Countryside Stewardship (CS) payments of 10%, which will apply to both existing and new agreements. He also announced a number of new premium actions/options and confirmed Defra would be simplifying the application process for SFI and CS Mid-Tier agreements together. We have produced a summary of the new rates and the main changes which you can view and download here.

In his session, Mr Barclay repeatedly underlined that farmers should be allowed to concentrate on productivity and produce quality British Food. He assured the audience that incentives to innovate will continue, as well as the expansion of permitted development rights for farm building development. This was a breath of fresh air for many farmers who may have felt Defra was ignoring the adverse impact of the transition and huge cost increases in food production. But we must not forget, this is an election year, and the Conservatives need all the votes they can get.

Another notable speaker during the day was Andy Cato, Founder of Wildfarmed, an organisation set up to champion regenerative farming and conduct vital research, of which he discussed their arable crop mixtures research project.

Jan McCourt, owner and founder of Northfield Farm, and Tom Warner, founder and CEO of BCorp Certified Warner’s Distillery, both gave very interesting insights regarding their success producing directly for consumers. 

Onto day two, and Farming Consultant John Price, attended the day’s sessions, aptly titled ‘the power of diversity’, with some great speakers taking the stage.

The audience was urged to consider and adopt diversity of experience and thought in leadership and management decisions to ensure fresh ideas are generated and well-rounded judgements are made. Creating diversity through age, gender, neurodiversity … the list goes on, will help your rural business thrive into the future.

Mike Duxbury, Managing Director of Inclusive Farm, reminded us that people are the most important resource in our industry and likely our wider lives. People must be placed at the centre of what we do. Prioritising diversity can help achieve this.

That said, diversity is nothing without inclusion. Without inclusion, diversity cannot flourish. So, diversity of thought and experience must be encouraged, welcomed and considered to reap the rewards.

The question is put, then, should we actively look to employ people different to ourselves in order achieve diversity in our businesses?

Some other thought-provoking questions were voiced to us all and are worth highlighting here for further consideration within our industry:

  • There is huge demand for school children visits to farms – has health and safety become too much of a barrier for us to offer industry education to the next generation? Should we be doing more to make farms a safer place to learn?
  • Should we re-brand ‘rural’ to ‘food’ to help overcome the rural–urban divide?

It was refreshing for a conference day to focus on the power of people amongst the airtime often given to the well-debated, and to some extent well-established, scientific and economic principles surrounding our agri-food systems. We already know from science and economics is that change is needed, but acting on this is more of a philosophical issue.

Furthermore, the words ‘hard work’ were used throughout the day. You cannot help but feel that the tendency to overwork in the farming industry needs an honest discussion if we are to attract and retain good people in our industry. This also resonates from a key take away from the Institute of Agricultural Management conference in November – the importance of empowering and investing in people.

If you would like some independent advice regarding any of the topics discussed above, please do not hesitate to get in touch with one of the team. Perhaps you are yet to benefit from the free business advice we are offering thanks to the Defra Future Farming Resilience Fund. If this is the case, please click here to register your interest.

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