NSA Chief Executive reports from Oxford Farming Conference

7th January 2022

Ongoing disruption due to Covid19 meant the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) and Real farming Conference both took place online for a second year running this week.

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker linked into much of the OFC event and spoke in one of the fringe sessions. He reports: “It was a real shame that Covid once again drove this conference online however while we missed out on the networking opportunities it didn’t detract from the inspiring and stimulating conference content. As a general comment, it is interesting to compare the conference content now with the way it would have been 10 years ago. There is no doubt the content of both conferences shares an interest in sustainable, environmentally friendly farming, land management, and food production, with growing consideration of the social/people aspects of agriculture. Both conferences are, quite rightly, forward-looking and sometimes it’s difficult to connect some of the presentations to what is happening in mainstream farming today – but that is probably an indication of the pressure and need to change that we are faced with.

"There is far too much detail to be able to report on in full but in addition to saying that all the conference content is highly relevant (considering the level of policy change happening in the UK nations, with new approaches on trade, farm support, the need to contribute to Government commitments on climate change and nature recovery, animal welfare and environment, and food policy), there are two areas I'd like to mention in more detail. 

"Firstly NSA was delighted to be asked to take part in the 'Breedr' sponsored fringe event, titled 'Building a Resilient British Livestock Industry'. I joined Clare Hill of FAI farms, and Phil Bicknell of Centre for Innovation Excellence in Agriculture (CIEL) to present and discuss the topic. Resilience will only come from profitability but will also be dependant on good environmental and health and welfare outcomes – the sheep sector has enjoyed 12 months of good prices but prices are just one part of a complicated puzzle in achieving true long term resilience. Details of my presentation are available on request if they cannot be found on the OFC website in due course. 

"Secondly, the Secretary of State George Eustice made a significant announcement, followed by a statement from Defra on Thursday and Friday, on the subject of the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway, SFI, and looking forward to Local Nature Recovery (LNR) and Landscape Recovery (LR). Key points from the  announcement are a reminder that policy change is evolutionary rather than revolutionary which is why we have a seven year transition and why the first year or so may not be as ambitious as some would like. SFI is all about supporting sustainable farming, with Pathway addressing the livestock health and welfare aspect of this, while LNR and LR are about addressing Government commitments to climate change and nature recovery. The point was made at he conference that if we are to meet these obligations we will need to take some land out of production but 10% is not considered to affect food production capacity, and this will be a choice for farmers with it being a Government responsibility to make sure that the incentives and rewards are sufficient.

"Countryside Stewardship has been simplified, the rates being paid will be increased this year by 30% and there is a strong encouragement for people to join it as the ‘bridge’ between the old schemes and LNR going forward. Mr Eustice made the point that domestic food production and a level of food security/self sufficiency is important to Government which is why this will be assessed on a bi annual basis and why they have put schemes such as SFI and the farm investment programme into place."

Information and access to some of the presentations will be available in due course, for the Oxford farming Conference, click here, and for the Real Oxford Farming Conference click here