My First Time At The Oxford Farming Conference - An Emerging Leader's Perspective


Neil Quinlan, a farmer, rugby player and 'new' Dad, explains what his first OFC was like, as an OFC Emerging Leader. Neil's grandfather was a tenant dairy farmer, and Neil studied agriculture at college. However, he spent his 20s in the construction industry, always maintaining a strong interest in farming. At the age of 30 Neil thought “if I don’t return to agriculture I never will”. Now at the age of 37 he is running his own farm business outside Chester and contract farms his in-laws farm, rearing dairy heifers as well as raising dairy beef cross calves. He is also converting an outbuilding to accommodate guests.

As somebody who has returned to farming, what seems like a short time ago (nearly two years, and we’re still here!), I was thrilled to be invited to the Oxford Farming Conference as part of the Emerging Leader programme. Although the title made me feel like a massive fraud.

So having fed the cows, I boarded the 8am train for Oxford. The closer I got, the more farmers I could spot. Easily identifiable at the station emblazoned in tweed. Bits of straw in the hair were also a dead giveaway….

I have been to Oxford before but I can only assume I spent that time with my eyes closed. I was in awe of the architecture and it provided a spectacular location for a conference. A welcome change from the norm.

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the whole event. The calibre of the speakers was excellent. Even if they did provide a reality check, at times, to the changing eating habits of the population. Something we as farmers need to be mindful of. We can’t force people to eat meat and drink milk, but we can all promote it in our own way.

Michael Gove announced that direct payments would continue until 2022. He also raised the point that payments to young people to enter farming are necessary as a result of payments based solely on owning land. As somebody who doesn’t receive any of these payments I’d rather see them phased out sooner but I appreciate others may need time to restructure their business. Other buzz words were “natural capital and “public goods”.

We also heard from people at the cutting edge of technology. With a run through from the hands-free hectare manager. A hectare of arable crop planted and harvested by automated machines completely remotely.

As well as hearing from successful farm succession/diversification projects.

James Wong was also on hand with a plethora of statistics. My favourite of which was the price of a bottle of ‘raw’ water in California. Eye-watering and probably stomach upsetting too.

I was also privileged to meet Princess Anne. She spoke very passionately about educating children about food and farming and I wholeheartedly agreed with her. I used this opportunity to express the negative response I’ve had from MPs when discussing similar issues as I imagine she carries far more clout than I.

The conference also had drama. No. Not Matt Naylor wearing his converse trainers. During a sobering talk about health and safety on farm, the speaker produced a large part of his skull, decoratively framed as a reminder of his accident… an audience member collapses.

We were also treated to a comedian. Jim Smith. Hilarious. I’d watch him again in a flash.

Of course there was also access to other farmers and other members of the Emerging Leader programme. People who been in my position as a new business owner, and they were more than happy to discuss ideas and dispense advice.

So to sum up, if you get the opportunity, see the Oxford Farming Conference for yourself!

To read more about Neil Quinlan’s farm life, including his cattle and Travelodge-alternative project, see

BASF Crop Protection sponsored the 2018 OFC Emerging Leaders' Programme. 



OFC25 will take place from 8th to 10th January 2025, in Oxford and Online.

A programme teaser and tickets are now available by visiting our dedicated conference section.