Oxford farming conference in Exam Schools

LAST WEEK the annual Oxford Farming Conference took place at the Examination Schools, with speakers including the Prince of Wales and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Running from Wednesday to Friday, the conference focused on the impact of our consumerdriven society upon agriculture.

The conference attempted to examine what farming delivers to society in financial terms, drawing upon big names in cultivation, politics and the environment to debate the issue.

Oxford has hosted the event for more than half a century and it attracts many distinguished speakers. One of the keynote speakers was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson.

The MP told conference goers that 22 per cent of the food currently imported by Britain could easily be grown at home. Paterson also urged his listeners to remember the Olympic spirit and back ‘Team GB’ in all areas, including the support of British produce.

Among the eminent speakers was Prince

Charles who gave a pre-recorded speech by video link. The Prince, a longstanding enviromental activist, echoed Paterson’s message by advising the public to take a greater interest in the origin of their foodstuffs.

“We all have to realise that food does not simply appear on our plates as a matter of course. As never before, it is a gift to be treasured, and therefore the people who produce this resource should be prized above all others and supported in ways that enable them to carry on doing what they do in as durable and resilient a way as possible,” he said.

The future of agriculture was a significant topic of both the Prince’s speech and the conference overall, with the programme featuring talks such as ‘Finding a New Farming Paradigm’ and ‘Where might science, technology and our understanding take us?’

In his speech Prince Charles warned, “For too long in the West, I am afraid, we have enjoyed something of a consumer’s holiday. Food above all else has been seen as a cheap commodity to which little value is attached.

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“There will be no food security if the world goes on prevaricating and postponing the kind of global action needed to tackle accelerating climate change, unsustainable population growth without regard to finite natural resources, violent and unusual extremes of weather and the catastrophic likelihood of a global temperature rise of four degrees centigrade by later this century.”

“Failure to tackle this immense and urgent challenge will merely ensure a glut of headless chickens,” he added.

Speaking to Cherwell on behalf of the Oxford Farming Conference, the Managing Director of the event, Mike Gooding, said, “The conference delivered its research report that set out to better understand what society gets from its connection with farming”.

He described the week as “a unique opportunity for scholars to interact with a wide crosssection of indust“ry.”

Failure to tackle this immense and urgent challenge will merely ensure a glut of headless chickens

Despite the conference’s initial success, the event saw a number of farm workers striking outside Exam Schools on its final day.

The farmers, angered about changes to their wage structure, were protesting against the future prospects of a levelled down minimum wage of £6.19 for all agricultural workers. Steve Leniec, a farm worker from Faringdon and chairman of Unite’s agricultural sector claimed that “it will be a disaster for our workers and for the rural economy.”