James Taylor Reports on the Oxford Conference

20 January 2010

James Taylor Reports on the Oxford Conference

The Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster gave the opportunity to attend the 2010 Oxford Farming Conference, 4th to 6th January, to Simon Connell, Dungiven YFC, current overall winner of the YFCU Young Farmer of the Year competition and  James Taylor, Coleraine YFC, YFCU Vice President and Agri-Affairs Committee Chairman. This valuable opportunity would not have been possible without the generous sponsorship of The Irish Farmers’ Journal and Moore’s Animal Feeds, Ballymena.

Above presenting cheques to YFCU members James Taylor and Simon Connell is Alan White from Moores Animal Feeds and James Campbell from the Irish Farmers' Journal.

Here James Taylor outlines what went on at the conference:


Simon Connell (l) and James Taylor (r) accompanied by Campbell Tweed from Ballygally - a Director of the Oxford Farming Conference 2007 - 2010

 Innovative farmers speaking at Oxford included David Brownhill, an Australian cereal farmer particularly interested in no-till farming and controlled traffic farming systems. Adrian Ivory, a beef and cereals producer and Fiona Lamotte, Managing Director of family herb company ‘Scotherbs.’ All three detailed how they had made their businesses profitable whilst also taking due care for the environment. Fiona used an apt quote, ‘An opportunist sees opportunity in every challenge; A pessimist sees a challenge in every opportunity,’ which fitted well with the challenges for the future being presented to the industry by the 2010 Oxford Farming Conference.
‘Passing the baton’ – Managing Succession

This was the title of the final session which took place on Wednesday afternoon (6th January). One notable speaker was Grant Gordon, Director General, Institute for Family Business. He saw succession as ‘the final test of greatness,’ the choices are quite simple he claimed –

Appoint a family successor
Appoint a non-family successor or
Exit the business
The ‘do nothing’ approach often comes from the owner’s ‘fear of mortality’ (though it was noted that retirement and death are not inextricably linked), the inability to chose among children and the reluctance to ‘let go.’

The main weakness in succession of family farms is often from lack of foresight and planning. The opportunity to succeed the older generation should be viewed as a choice, all those involved should be aware of the risks and any plan should be written down but should stem from significant communication between all parties which should begin from as early as possible. He concluded that succession planning is a process not an event.

On Tuesday evening in the Oxford Union debating chamber, delegates voted 180 to 163 in favour of the motion ‘This house believes that all farmers should retire at 60’ after some enthusiastic, emotional and somewhat entertaining speeches from both sides of the argument.

‘Rising to the challenge: Feed the world, Protect the environment, Survive and thrive’ – the title alone of the 2010 Oxford Farming Conference stimulates much thought and the conference itself delivered, creating much discussion among delegates on Food Security and Climate Change.

Hilary Benn, DEFRA Secretary, used the OFC stage to launch the governments new food strategy, ‘Food 2030’ which aims to increase sustainable food production, reduce food waste and GHG emissions and encourage consumers to eat a healthy diet. He highlighted the massive waste of food in the UK – the average family wastes £480 worth of food each year; and he challenged the industry that current production methods are unsustainable, he said that “protecting soil and biodiversity is important today as we don’t know how it will affect the future.” Benn believes that farming should be the progressive industry of the future.

However it was noticeable that the governments new strategy, while it was a major change to Labour’s attitude, lacked detail and includes no indication as to the policies which need to be implemented if this change is to happen.

This was highlighted by the shadow secretary, Nick Herbert, who claimed the government must act rather than just talk. He put out a call for action on the need for a change to food labelling, for a supermarket ombudsman and a reduction of gold plating EU legislation. He believed “we are entering a new age of agriculture; we are entering the era of agriculture.”

 It was only too obvious from both men’s contribution that 2010 is to be the year of a general election, as their presentations sounded good but lacked detail. Agriculture is obviously being moved up the political agenda and whichever government is in power will need to act more and talk less especially on the priority topic of achieving sustainable food security.