Guest blog: The jeopardy and the opportunity – The Brexit Room at ORFC

Guest blog by Vicki Hird (@vickihird) and Kath Dalmeny (@kath_dalmeny), from Sustain: the Alliance for better food and farming


Vicki Hird, Campaign Coordinator, Food and Farming Policy, Sustain

Kath Dalmeny, Chief Executive of Sustain

Kath Dalmeny, Chief Executive of Sustain








Brexit looms large over the agricultural sector, and the ORFC is no exception. The changes ahead look set to be seismic – for farmers and workers, for those in the food movement, for policy watchers, for policy makers and, clearly, for all of us as consumers.

Everyone is affected and there is still a high level of uncertainty. Some predict cliff edges and chaos ahead. Others see Brexit as presenting a way to help realise their dreams for food and farming policy and practice.

Sustain has worked with the ORFC organisers to design a series of seven Brexit Room sessions and debates, in a creative and structured way.

We want to avoid getting bogged down in confusion and the big emotions that can sometimes sweep us away – despair, hopes and dreams. Our purpose is to create a space in which we can share information and insights, have constructive debate, and gain clarity about what we should all be championing with policy-makers over the coming months.

Why is Sustain helping ORFC to play a stewardship role for the Brexit Room?

Since the referendum vote in 2016, the Sustain alliance has been running events, sharing intelligence and analysis on Brexit by and with its members and wider associates, with the public and with political audiences. This has helped keep the information flowing, and supported people to spread knowledge and use their influence in their own spheres. We have witnessed a great sense of common purpose, generosity, and a desire to influence the process to achieve the best possible outcomes.

In this same spirit, over the past few months, Kath Dalmeny and Vicki Hird of Sustain have been supporting the ORFC organisers to plan seven Brexit-themed sessions on issues important to farmers and others interested in the impact of Brexit for farming, farm workers and environmental policy and practice – addressing both the jeopardies and the opportunities.

The ORFC 2018 Brexit Room sessions are based on submissions of a range of ideas to ORFC from potential participants and contributors. The seven sessions will look specifically at how Brexit affects farming and everything connected to it.

We will aim to make these creative, informative and lively – with farmers, specialists and others sharing their experiences and knowledge of what may or may not lie ahead. Whether you are a ‘remainer’ or a ‘leaver’ matters not - we hope everyone will find them useful and relevant.

This will all be politically timely. ORFC 2018 follows a fraught Parliamentary session at the tail end of 2017 dominated by the European negotiations, the EU Withdrawal (Repeal) Bill, the new Trade Bill, possibly the much anticipated 25-Year Environment Plan, and possibly early sight of Government plans for a new UK Fisheries Bill. We also now have a possible new environment body to discuss - announced by Defra Secretary of State Michael Gove MP.

Most importantly for conference participants, the ORFC will be held just before the likely publication of the White (or Command) Paper on the UK’s new Agriculture Bill. Debates are already starting about what objectives and powers the new Bill should contain. Will it be CAP-Lite, or a more profound revolution in the way the Government approaches farm policy and subsidies?

At the ORFC, we will know something of what lies ahead, a bit about how we can engage and yet there are many unknowns. The ORFC will be an important moment for us all to take stock.

At the time of writing, six sessions will take place in the Assembly Room and one opening Brexit session in the Main Hall. The sessions range from a ‘State of play’ or ‘what-you-need-to-know-about-where-things-are-at-on-Brexit’ session, to one on the what public goods we would want to see supported in farm policy and what this means for global food sovereignty. There will also be what we are calling a “(De)regulation marketplace” to hear from a range of sector specialists on what standards and regulations are at risk, and which opportunities need exploring.

So, do take a look at the Brexit Room sessions. They may help if you are feeling a commonly reported tension between ‘desperation and aspiration’.

Our sessions aim to focus our minds; to be realistic about the (potentially dire) situation by painting an accurate and well-informed picture of the jeopardies; whilst also inspiring hope and a sense of possibility and optimism in the post-Brexit debate.

There are many dreams that people have had about what a good farm policy might look like – is this a chance for these dreams to be realised? We hope you will join us in the Brexit Room to debate these important issues.


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The ORFC 2018 Programme is live!

We are excited to say that the programme for ORFC18 is live and it’s another great year of sessions for you all! You can check out the full range of sessions, debates and discussions on our programme page.

If that has whetted your appetite, then we recommend you buy your tickets as soon as possible, as we are selling fast this year. One important thing to note: if you want to attend one of the evening dinners, you can only buy your meal tickets at the time of purchasing your conference tickets.

And here’s Conference Manager Nessie Reid, with an overview of what you can expect – we’re looking forward to seeing you there!

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Guest blog – Dead Zone: Where the wild things were

Guest blog from Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive, Compassion in World Farming

Philip Lymbery, CIWF Chief Exec

Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive, Compassion in World Farming

Today, many wild animals face extinction. However, it’s not just the usual suspects – climate change and poaching – which are to blame. In fact, one of the biggest drivers of species loss worldwide is cheap meat from factory farms.

Wildlife is now disappearing 1,000 times faster than what scientists consider to be ‘normal’.

Indeed, there are two sides to factory farming. On the one, animals suffer as they are caged and confined on factory farms. On the other, wild animals are squeezed out of their homes as more and more land and water is given over to the production of cheap animal feed.

Take the Sumatran elephant. Down to their last 2,500, their forest homes are being destroyed to make way for intensive palm plantations. It’s not just about the palm oil ending up in so many biscuits, cosmetics and other products. It’s about the palm kernel, which is being used as cheap animal feed, fuelling factory farming and driving further deforestation.

Penguins are being pushed to the brink of extinction too, because we feed our factory-farmed animals the very same fish which make up the penguin’s diet. And jaguars in Brazil are left with nowhere to live and little to eat as monocultures of soya take over the land, once again destined to feed animals suffering on intensive farms.

Over the course of writing Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were, I’ve discovered that when we restore animals to the land in the right way – in well-managed, mixed rotational farms – amazing things can happen. Free-ranging animals on pasture can feel fresh air and sunshine, and carry out natural behaviours essential for their welfare. Soils start to regenerate. Wildlife can thrive again.

The planet is now at a dangerous tipping point where nearly half the world’s meat comes from industrial rather than mixed, extensive farms.

Helping to revive a living countryside can be as easy as choosing to eat less and better meat, milk, and eggs from pasture-fed, free-range or organic animals – with a cascade of positive benefits for the environment, wildlife, farm animals, and us.

Posted in Blog, Environment

Why have we raised the ticket price this year and why speakers need to buy tickets…

Ticket prices

Thanks to our sponsors and funders we have over the years been able to subsidise the cost of the conference tickets to delegates. This is a very important part of what ORFC is all about. We do not want anyone to be excluded because of the price. However, this year despite huge fundraising efforts by the ORFC team we will be unable to subsidise the ticket price by as much as last year.

The conference costs over £70,000 to organise.

Our fundraising will still enable us to subsidise the cost of the ticket by 45 percent but in order to cover our costs we have had to raise the ticket price by £10. This is something we have not done lightly and you can be sure that next year we will be looking again to do our best to raise more funds to secure the highest possible subsidy.

Speakers buying tickets

In order for the conference to go ahead, we need everyone – including speakers – to buy tickets. Some conferences are hundreds of pounds per head to attend, however we feel that if everyone buys a ticket, then it means more people – from varying income backgrounds – can come. We also feel that by speakers buying tickets, it moves away from an us-and-them approach of speaker and listener; but rather everyone is equally part of the conference, helping to create a sense of collective participation and camaraderie.

That said, we are always open to suggestions, particularly intelligent alternative-finance ones, so feel free to get in touch!

Nessie Reid

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ORFC’s Manager Nessie Reid gives us a peek into next years conference…

Conference Manager Nessie Reid fills us in on how the programme is shaping up in this sneak-peek video! Don’t forget, ORFC 2018 Tickets available here

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ART, FOOD AND FARMING: Call for artist in residence at ORFC 2018

Closing date: 7 November

Calling to all artists/musicians/poets/dancers interested in food, farming and the environment.

John Berger, the great art critic and writer allegedly said “The strange power of art is sometimes it can show that what people have in common is more urgent than what differentiates them”. I believe art, in its broadest sense, can be an extremely powerful tool for conveying and sharing ideas and complexities that sometimes words cannot.

For ORFC 2018, the ORFC 218 team and I would like to invite an artist to be in residence over the conference period (4-5 January 2017). By ‘artist’ ,this can be anything from musician, poet, dancer, snake charmer (although not advised)… you name it. The successful applicant(s) will know by 07 November so you may wish to start your piece(s) in the lead up to the conference I.e. interview some farmers, the ORFC team members etc or just create something over the 2 days, to be presented at the closing plenary.

I am cautious to be too prescriptive about what we are looking for (as this is a piece of art, and not a policy document!) but we do ask that the central focus of the piece revolves around farming, food or broadly the environment.

Please send your application to me at: (Nessie Reid) by 7 November.

Your application can be anything you wish it to be – from a covering letter, to a video, to a phone call, to a dance (whatever your style). It just needs to clearly convey your idea/vision.

Unfortunately, we are not able to offer an official salary (although I wish we could) but we can offer a nominal fee of £200 to cover travel and expenses.

I look forward to hearing from you!


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We’re back! Announcing the Call for Contributions for the 2018 Oxford Real Farming Conference

With only 6 months until the ORFC 2018 (how time flies!) we’ve begun pulling together an exciting programme for 2018… 
When we asked for your ideas this time last year, the UK had recently voted to leave the European Union. This time the Queen’s speech has informed us that a specific Agriculture Brexit Bill will be created, lobbied and debated during the coming parliament. We also know that Brexit will bring further uncertainty around issues including farm support, GM crops and agricultural imports.

Such troubled times call for new ideas and new thinking. And that is just what ORFC has and always will be about.
This year, we are looking for ideas for sessions around the following themes:

  • Farm Practice – new ideas and best practice in agroecological farming methods
  • The Big Ideas - what truly needs to be changed to bring about the Agrarian Renaissance
  • Growing and Supporting – ideas and initiatives to better support what we’ve got and grow the sector
  • The Brexit Room –we have a once in a generation chance to influence and shape food and farming policy
  • Food Sovereignty– ideas and best practice for building food sovereignty both in the UK and globally
  • Funding – ideas and best practice on finance that works for food and farming
  • Good Science, Good Research: What kind of science does “real farming” really need? What is actually being done?

If you have an idea for a session you would like to run along one or more of these themes then please send us the following information :

  1. A brief description of the session
  2. Who will chair it and other contributors that you hope to involve
  3. How you will engage the audience in your session

Session structure

This year we are really keen to move away from the lecture and panel discussion approach and engage all participants more in the discussions and debates. So, we are asking you not only to propose a session but to say how you will structure itNot in detail at this stage, but we want to know how you will engage your audience in your event.

Some subjects require a lecture/Q&A approach; but others don’t. We’d like to have a diversity of approaches and a diversity of speakers and chairs.

The deadline for submissions is Friday 4th August, 2017

Please send your ideas by email to me at: your session has been selected for inclusion you will hear from us in early September. Please note the ORFC is very popular and we get around 3 applications for each slot available. 

If you have not heard from us by the 15th September then unfortunately your session has not been selected.  

We really look forward to hearing from you,


Nessie Reid, ORFC Manager




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ORFC 2017 content is now live

If you would like to relive the ORFC 2017, take a look at our photos here.

I am pleased to announce that all the PowerPoints and audio recordings from this year’s conference can be found in our 2017 Archive.

Nessie Reid, ORFC Manager

ORFC 2017 | Olivier De Schutter at our Opening Plenary

ORFC 2017 | Resilient food systems and climate change: the UK’s international role panel session

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The ORFC poet in residence

“Go into the towns and cities laden with produce and stories… too much fact runs off busy people like water from compacted soil. Learn how to open them to the seeds of ideas…” 

The French writer, designer and playwright Jean Cocteau said “the poet doesn’t invent. He listens” and no poet does this better than Adam Horovitz, our ORFC poet in residence. Throughout the ORFC 2017 Adam listened: he heard stories of people’s hope, of their fears and challenges, of visions of necessary systemic change, of stories of regeneration and possibility, of resilience and determination, of desperation and calls for help… the whole gambit of human experience. And from this place he wrote us two poems The Soil Never Sleeps and Where to go from here?

We feel these poems so beautifully capture the essence of the conference and thus decided to make them available to delegates and those that did not get the chance to attend. You can listen to Adam below…

We have decided to offer signed, limited editions of 150 letterpress posters measuring 297mm by 500mm (just longer than A3). The poems will be set in 20pt Gill Sans on beautiful 300gsm card, perfect for framing. These are being prepared for print at the moment, but the posters (which come as a pack of two) are available now for pre-order for £25 (including p&p in the UK). All proceeds from the posters will go towards Adam’s ongoing lyrical celebration of pasture farming as the PfLA’s poet in residence. If you would like to purchase a set of posters, click here

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A tale of two conferences

Why run the Oxford Real Farming Conference when the ‘official’ Oxford Farming Conference already says all that needs saying?

Because, says Colin Tudge, they represent two quite different world views.

The Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) and the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) represent two totally different views of farming, indeed two different philosophies of life. And they lead us towards completely different, and in many ways opposing, strategies.

The ‘official’ or ‘conventional’ view, represented at the OFC by corporates and the Secretary of State of the day, is that agriculture is “a business like any other”.

According to the accepted norms of the neoliberal economy its prime task is to contribute to GDP and hence to economic growth and it must do this by competing on the global market, head-to-head, with the subsidized high-tech of the US on the one hand and the vast sunny acres of the Ukraine, Brazil, Africa, and Spain on the other. So long as oil is cheap (or at least is still available and just about affordable) British farming is most profitable when labour is replaced by high tech – big machines and industrial chemistry.

There’s a caveat here though, for as economist Paul Mason points out, when there’s enough dispossessed and desperate labour in the world it can be cheaper to employ itinerants than to gear up; and as Felicity Lawrence told the ORFC last year, some key areas of British farming now rely on virtually bonded gangs of Chinese and East Europeans, largely run by organized crime. In general, though, it’s cheaper just to get rid of people.

In the absence of skilled labour husbandry must be simplified so mixed farms are replaced by monocultures and animals are raised in factories. Machines and buildings are most cost-effective when they’re big, so ‘farms’ become bigger and bigger.

Fifty years ago in Britain 100 acres was big. Now 1000 hectares, 2500 acres-plus, is commonplace; and the many thousands of dairy farms that once made a fair living with 20 cows – as is still common in much of Europe – are mostly replaced by herds of several hundreds, while some high-tech zealots now dream of units of 30,000.  The milk is then homogenized and commonly powdered for export not least (guess where!) to India, where with clever marketing, tens of millions of traditional farmers with no other means of subsistence can be undercut. After all, business is business.

The cost of doing business

The collateral damage in Britain and worldwide is enormous: the countryside strictly for commuters, the few remaining farm workers banished to low-cost suburbs, food demonstrably degraded nutritionally and certainly gastronomically, with all too obvious consequences for health. Add to his the horrendous and indeed frightening destruction of the biosphere – the diversity of creatures, the fertility of soil, and the stability of climate.

Worldwide, for all the razzmatazz, a billion still go hungry although everyone could easily be well fed, if only we did things properly. A billion displaced farmers and their families now live in urban slums, and the world population of diabetics is twice that of Russia. But what the hell! It’s profitable! It’s the bottom line!  It makes us ‘competitive’! That’s progress! That’s ‘realistic’!

And with a little creative accountancy and judiciously chosen graphs it is possible to show at least to those who want to be convinced that the status quo is ticking along nicely, or would be if only people at large weren’t so ignorant, and bolshie, and didn’t breed so much.

Why we need the Oxford Real Farming Conference

‘Real Farming’ is short for ‘Enlightened Agriculture’ and its point is to ensure that everyone who is ever likely to be born on to this Earth can be well fed, and to do this without cruelty or injustice and without wrecking the rest of the world.

All this is eminently achievable with modest technologies that already exist and with an economy which, though not neoliberal, need not frighten the horses.

Observation, simple science and common sense tell us that the farms we really need are the complete opposite of the Neoliberal-Industrial kind that are now imposed upon us: mixed, low-input (organic is the default position), therefore skills-intensive (plenty of farmers) and therefore (since there is no advantage in scale-up) small to medium-sized.

Marketing should be as local as is reasonable, complemented by fair trade – and not designed expressly to provide commodities for the global market, as now. Enlightened Agriculture must be matched by true food culture. Wall-to-wall burgers won’t do. Believe it or not, if things were done properly, food produced in such ways and to such standards could be more affordable than now (see

Agenda setting in a changed world

All this cannot be achieved by ad hoc fiddling with the status quo. It needs a new mindset. We need to re-define what we really care about in life: good food, good health, a beautiful and flourishing countryside, or massive profits for a few large (and growing) corporates?

We need to re-think the kind of economy we need to support enlightened farming (some variation on a theme of social democracy would do the trick); and what kind of governance we need to ensure that good things are done (people in positions of influence who know something and give a damn would be a great step forward!). Alongside this an understanding of what kind of science could deliver what’s needed and who should control it, for science has become the handmaiden of big business.

Then we need to dig deeper still, and explore the moral and indeed the metaphysical bases and implications of all our ideas.

The ORFC cannot explore all these issues in depth but it can and does set the agenda. It defines the kind of things we really need to think about, and why, and to some extent how.

By contrast, the discussions at the ‘conventional’, original, Oxford Farming Conference – how to sell more pigs to China; how to sell more biotech to the world at large – are an exercise in rearranging deckchairs, as the entire world, with us and our fellow creatures, sinks beneath the waves and perhaps, as global warming bites, almost literally.


Colin Tudge, January 4 2017

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