Oxford Farming Conference 2011

    The 65th Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) held on 5th and 6th January certainly helped set the agenda for the farming year to come.

    Some of the key issues addressed were:

    • OFC research this year focused on the ‘Value and Viabilty of UK Farming’, The farming industry should combine with the Government and the food supply chain to develop a ‘joined up’ agricultural strategy to drive the sector forward, according to leading farming figures.
    • Sustainability must be the central theme of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and GM crops must be used to achieve it, according to Liberal Democrat MEP George Lyon. GM is becoming the norm around the rest of the world and Europe is being left behind. 
    • Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for Defra, confirmed that reducing red tape on farms was a ‘clear priority’ for the Government. Driven by Richard Macdonald’s Task Force for Farming Regulation which is due to publish its recommendations in April this year, Spelman concluded “We look forward to the Task Force’s recommendations for a simpler, risk-based way of doing things.”
    • World population will reach nine billion, barring disaster and there will be a doubling of food demand by 2050. Professor Aubrey Manning, Edinburgh University, told the conference that there was too much ‘pussyfooting’ round the issue and that it had to be discussed. This was followed by a lively debate in the Oxford Union that ended in a marginal result in favour of the motion that “unrestrained population growth and food security are incompatible”.
    • Caroline Spelman expressed her desire for a shift away from direct farm support payments under the next CAP reform in 2013. She argued that a rise in global demand for food and hence rising food prices are providing the opportunity to plan for a change in subsidies away from food production and more heavily weighted on the environment under Pillar 2.

    On a lighter note, Giles Hanglin, Food & Farming advisor in Savills Cambridge office added “As patrons of the conference, we were pleased to see a really good attendance and the change in format following feedback from previous years saw an excellent mix of political messages and case studies to keep the audience enthused and informed.  It’s a great event to key off the farming year and a good opportunity to see old friends and meet new people.”