A report from Sophie Pierce, an OAST Scholar at the 2017 OFC
Attending the Oxford Farming Conference in January 2017 as a scholar was an all-round fantastic and invaluable opportunity. Farming after Brexit was the theme this year, will we thrive, or will we just strive? Speakers included the Defra secretary, Andrea Leadsom, NFU deputy president, Minette Batters and there was a lively debate at the Union on whether the biggest danger to the family farm is the family itself.
It was a great experience to meet likeminded scholars at the specific events set up for us. This included a social drinks reception and an interactive session, sponsored by McDonalds, where we were joined by current leaders within the sector - Helen Woolley (CLA), George Eustice MP and Guy Smith (NFU). Within the interactive session it was great to work as a team with fellow scholars within such a stimulating environment. We were able to voice our opinions on the future of British Agriculture and how we would like to shape it. The questions we looked into were:- What should be at the heart of our agricultural policy in the next 20 years? What are the next innovations that will drive the food and farming industry? What can food and farming learn from other industries and countries? Our suggestions were answered with feedback from the leaders concerning the practicalities of our ideas, which was rather insightful.
For future scholars my recommendation would be to sign up to as many of the fringe events as possible. They allow you to immerse yourself deeper within the agricultural realm and allow a more multidisciplinary approach, opening your eyes up to new ways of thinking and initiatives which are going ahead. My favourite fringe event was Protein Challenge 2040: What’s the opportunity for UK food and farming. This session discussed the main goals of increasing plant-based protein consumption, developing sustainable animal feed and closing the protein nutrient loop. I now know how I can become a part of this global coalition in the quest to explore how we feed nine billion people enough protein in a way which is affordable, healthy, equitable and good for the environment. It will be an arduous task, but with the appropriate infrastructure in place, optimism and positivity will be the driving forces.
The highlight for me was being able to go to the press room on the final day. This was facilitated through the media company of the event: Breeze and Freeze. I was thrilled to have the chance to meet Dame Helen Ghosh director for the National Trust, and George Monbiot, environmental and political activist.
The experiences and benefits from the conference were far from transient. The chance to network with such a wide variety of people and build long-lasting connections over the 3 days was such a great experience! (I quickly learnt how not to network – note to self, when your glass gets refilled with champagne you don’t need to drink it all!!)
I would like to share particular thanks to Ian Damms and David Christensen. Firstly, Ian informed me of the event and told me to apply for the scholarship, knowing this event would be of interest and David awarded me the scholarship. Both of them knew it was my first time at a conference, and I honestly did not know what to expect or how it all worked! Their help and guidance throughout the conference was exceptional, by taking the time to see how I was getting on, introducing me to people whom I wouldn’t have spoken to and just being familiar faces proved invaluable; this personal touch was greatly appreciated.