From Sheep to the Sheldonian: An Emerging Leader's take on #OFC18

Kate Rowell Emerging Leader 2018

2018 Emerging Leader Kate Rowell recounts her first experience of the Oxford Farming Conference.

Kate is a fifth generation sheep and suckler cow farmer from a hill and upland farm near
Peebles in the Scottish Borders. After working as a vet for eight years, she and her husband moved back to her home farm to take over the business from her parents, and since they have been selected as a QMS Monitor Farm. Kate also sits on the Board of Quality Meat Scotland, is Chair of the QMS Cattle and Sheep Standards Setting Body, part of the Scottish Sheep Industry Group, a Scottish Rural Leader and a frequent volunteer with RHET.

My Dad went to the Oxford Farming Conference in the 1980s and has always told me that if I ever got the opportunity to attend I should grab it with both hands! So when Scot Caroline Millar, the 2018 OFC Chair, announced the Emerging Leaders Programme at the Royal Highland Show in June I decided there and then to give it a go. Being at the top end of the eligible age range it was now or never, and very luckily the selectors were impressed enough by my application to offer me a place.

The initial meeting of the Emerging Leaders in the run up to the Conference was a great day, with loads of opportunities to put personalities to names and faces and wide ranging policy discussions about the future shape of agriculture. By the end of the day it felt like I’d made countless new friends, and left me counting the days down until January 3rd.

The drive down to Oxford meant a very early start, and I did have to battle through a few snowdrifts on the way, but eventually all the Emerging Leaders convened in a (very expensive) coffee shop next to the Examination Schools and it felt like a gathering of old mates. Christchurch College, where we were to sleep for two nights, was absolutely stunning, and it seemed like every venue we went to outdid the previous one for architectural grandeur.

The speakers throughout the Conference were mostly outstanding. To my mind Michael Gove didn’t really say anything new, and the American Ted McKinney just reinforced my feeling that trade deals with the US will be incredibly tricky. Standing out for me were Duncan McConchie speaking about his outdoor activity centre Laggan Outdoor, Professor Chris Elliott telling us about food fraud and how it takes a gallon of water to produce one almond, James Wong with his logical and scientific view of food issues, and especially Eve Turow Paul whose insights on the food habits of millennials completely blew my mind! I’ve watched her presentation again at least four times and tell everyone I meet about how great it was and how they should watch it.

The most practical and useful talk was from Chris Sheldrick the creator of “what3words” – an app which gives an alternative to postcodes. An amazing idea we all wished we’d had first, and extremely useful for locating the pub where all the other Emerging Leaders were relaxing!

I also was one of the lucky few to meet HRH Princess Anne, and found her to be incredibly approachable with a genuine interest in our industry.

The whole experience was intense, full on and completely unforgettable and I’m still mulling over some of the points which were made three months later. It has underlined how much potential our industry has and how many opportunities are out there waiting to be taken, but also that the world is changing rapidly and we will all need to be at the top of our game to keep up with it.

Thanks for the advice Dad, I loved every minute.

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