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Do we really need conference rivalry?

Date Published: 03/02/2011

On the 4-6 of January the venerable Oxford Farming Conference was held in that great city. Among the many who attended were OF&G’s Chief Executive, Richard Jacobs, and our Patron and long-serving director, Charles Peers.

Charles has been attending the Oxford Farming Conference since the 60s and is a keen supporter of it. Richard, while not having the same time under his belt as Charles, also found the event fascinating and well worth his time.

Now, the Oxford Farming Conference is not renowned for being a platform for organic food and farming. Many would say it’s quite the opposite, being focused on never-ending efficiency improvements and bolstering the bottom line through scale and technology. But what it is concerned with is farming and, when all is said and done, most farmers are faced with many of the same core challenges and unavoidably have much in common with their peers, whether organic or non-organic. Organic farmers are very interested in efficiency and profit too, you know!

In what should no doubt be seen as a direct challenge to the history and status of the Oxford Farming Conference, we now also have The Oxford Real Farming Conference which has a very different focus, that being health, animal welfare, biodiversity and a concern about the spread of GM crops and increasingly intensive farming methods. These are all issues you would closely associate with organic farming. And you would be right.

Which is why it causes us some degree of pain that the latter event is so fervently pitched against the former that it is run at the same time. Yes, the reasons for this are clear; it is an ideological challenge and gains publicity for this. But it seems a shame that it removes the opportunity for anyone with an interest in both events to attend them both.

You don’t get much in the way of debate if neither side is willing or capable of listening to the other’s argument. Better, surely, for those who have an interest in both conferences to be able to engage in the events by actually being there! It can only promote better understanding of each approach to farming and could even be responsible for encouraging some sharing of ideas in the middle ground.

We don’t think, by saying this, we’re missing the point. You could say the point has been made by The Real Oxford Farming Conference. It’s been noticed. Now it has a platform and a pedigree, maybe it could afford to shift its timeline and welcome in those who would like to consider themselves a part of the whole farming community, not just a subset of it.