IF you have never been to either of the farming conferences in Oxford, let me provide an insight, of sorts.
The Oxford Farming Conference, based in the Examination Schools of the university, is where farming’s power players posture on the first morning, whether on the podium or in the tiled halls.
Suited and booted, union chiefs, levy board bigwigs and other industry leaders huddle in groups throughout the venue, chatting about the farming year ahead and the one just gone.
Down the road, a phrase you hear a lot at both events and which serves to emphasise their separation, the 1,000-plus delegates of the Oxford Real Farming Conference meet at the city’s town hall, and other smaller venues.
The dress code here is less suit and tie, more wool jumpers, with scarves tossed over shoulders. Reusable coffee cups get stashed into hemp bags and some delegates, stretching out the end of benched rows, expose socks emblazoned with ‘ban the bomb’ nuclear disarmament logos. Not something you see ‘down the road’.
The two events are at polar opposites in terms of tone, yet both have, at their core, a belief in UK farming and confidence that they have the answers for the future. However, as standalone events, you could argue they act as echo chambers for their respective delegates, when far better would be more collaboration between the two.
That does not mean one event has to disappear, but there is huge potential for more shared sessions which produce joint outcomes and ideas by bringing the different perspectives together.
Going back to the point about fashion, it would be great to see more discussions which encouraged participation by the likes of those at this week’s excellent Lamma Show at the NEC, where dealer boots and gilets were the order of the day. There might be no such thing as a ‘conventional farmer’, but the Oxford events could work harder to draw in a wider cross section of the farming community.
Maybe 2020 could be the year they do that, because, let’s be honest, we will need all the collaborative ideas we can harness in the post-Brexit world.