This week I had the pleasure of attending my first ever Oxford Farming Conference, along with George Dunn.
The OFC’s mission is to inform, challenge and inspire. It certainly had that effect on me!
The conference began with three fringe meetings and the one that I joined was the launch of The Land Partnerships Handbook (www.LandPartnerships.org) which deals with different possibilities for young entrepreneurs to match up with landowners. George had written an article in it on selecting the right legal framework for a business relationship.
The theme of the 2012 conference was “Agriculture: Tomorrow’s power”.
A report had been commissioned called “Power in Agriculture”, looking at resources, economics and politics in a global context. Speakers from home and abroad gave their “take” on the report, and in the case of the farmer contributions, their thoughts on the threats and opportunities to their farming businesses. I recommend that you go to www.ofc.org.uk and browse through the papers that take your fancy. If you are interested in Dairy Farming, then Nigel Lok from South Africa makes fascinating viewing. How to treat each cow of a large herd as an individual each day!
Caroline Spelman was upbeat about the future of British Agriculture, stressing that we need to produce a lot more food; using a lot less land, water and fossil fuel. Jim Paice spoke of the Green Food Project- cutting waste, combining energy production and food production and influencing consumer behaviour.
Caroline wants us to focus on becoming climate smart, energy smart and water smart, and at the same time to grow more food to feed the ever increasing population.
The debate at The Oxford Union was “This house believes British Agriculture could thrive outside the EU”. A straw poll at the beginning showed a roughly 80% vote against the motion. However, some spirited debating with emphasis on the wording being “could thrive” i.e. not for certain, turned the voting on exit to a narrow victory for the proposition.
The final day attempted to answer the question “where does the power lie in global Agriculture?” Do the TNCs (transnational companies) hold the power with across the globe trading and the tying up of such things as GM intellect or commodity straitjackets for suppliers and consumers? Do the supermarkets hold too much power or are tomorrow’s farmers going to hold the key to food security? Will the “X factor” for your business be water security by having that limiting factor held in your farm reservoirs, as believes Andrew Blenkiron of the Euston Estate in Suffolk?
The last afternoon dealt with the food supply chain. Andrew Opie, Director of Food and Sustainability, British Retail Consortium, was extolling the virtues of stronger retailer/supplier relationships, but this didn’t ring true with the fact that my free range egg price has not increased for about 18 months, despite massive hikes in feed costs removing all hope of making a profit this year. His talk of long term sustainability did not ring true. The supermarkets ignored the plight of the egg producers.
The great thing about the OFC is the old friends you meet and the new ones you make. From a TFA perspective it is a chance to chat to members, ministers, land agents, bankers, industry leaders and numerous organisations with which the TFA has dealings.
George and I were approached by an Institutional Landlord’s chief executive, who related that one of their tenants had been negotiating a rent review with the Landlord’s local agent. The tenant had read the TFA notes, following our annual liaison meeting with the said institution, in which we had outlined the unrealistic rent demands asked by agents. He had been asked a doubling of his existing rent, but settled at a 20% increase! We agreed that this unrealistic demand did nothing for the credibility of local agent, nor for the chance of reaching a sensible figure by agreement.
I do hope you take a look at the OFC website and browse through the papers.
This month is LAMMA and we will have our usual stand there. I hope to meet as many of you as can make it to Newark.
Best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous New Year.