Oxford Real Farming Conference 2019 Highlights

The 2019 Oxford Real Farming Conference is set to be the biggest yet – with more sessions, delegates and an additional venue. Here are a few highlights to look out for:

Eliot Coleman
Long-time organic farmer and author of The New Organic Grower, Eliot Coleman will guide the audience through the journey that organic farming has been on and what he believes is in store for its future, as well as participating in a special session on tool customisation, another area in which he is a renowned pioneer.

Vivien Sansour 
Founder of the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library, Vivien Sansour, will be speaking about her work to recover ancient seeds and put them back into the hands of the people. While the seed library is an interactive art and science project that aims to provide a public space for people to exchange seeds and knowledge; it is also the subversive rebel who is of the people and is inspired by the nature of seeds that travel across borders and checkpoints, defying the violence of the landscape while reclaiming life and presence.

Steve Gabriel
Author Steve Gabriel will be speaking first thing on day one of the ORFC about his work in silvopasture – the agroforestry practice that combines trees, animals and forages. Steve will invite attendees to explore an approach to ecological farming that ranks among the best solutions to climate change, whilst providing an ethical and productive system for healthy livestock.

Barbara Hachipuka Banda 
Barbara Hachipuka Banda is the founder and director of the Natural Agriculture Development Program Zambia. Barbara advocates on behalf of small-scale women farmers, who are critical agents of change in the transformation to sustainable agriculture. Her presentation will provide an overview of how working with women farmers to promote sustainable agriculture also has a positive impact on gender equality, poverty reduction, education and community development.

Guy Shrubsole
Guy Shrubsole is a campaigner and writer whose forthcoming book Who Owns England? explores the hidden history of land ownership. He will be part of an interactive workshop exploring what campaigns, coalitions and research we need to protect County Farms, which are a traditionally important step for new entrants into our farming communities.

Speakers will be available for interview on request, please contact press@orfc.org.uk or speak to a volunteer or press officer on the day.

If you do not yet have a press pass and would like to attend, please get in touch to apply as soon as possible – we only have a few spaces remaining.

Local Abattoirs: Why they are closing and how we can save them



Small abattoirs are the unsung linchpins of our local food systems. Without them, we could not have local, traceable meat production. Small-scale, high welfare farming, rearing of rare breeds, organic or pasture fed and the success of local food businesses, including direct sales like meat boxes and farm shops, all depend on the services of small, local abattoirs.

Small abattoirs form one of the cornerstones of a strong rural economy, enabling farmers to add value to their products through the way meat is skillfully butchered and processed. Most large abattoirs do not provide this service and do not return meat to the farmer for them to sell directly to consumers. Small abattoirs also provide jobs and build trust in the local community between producer, processer, retailer and consumer. This is something that has been lost as we’ve become increasingly beholden to large supermarkets, losing our connection with where our food comes from.

And with shorter travel time for livestock, smaller numbers being slaughtered and smaller trailers with lower ramps for loading and unloading, animal welfare is as high as possible, with stress for the animal kept to a minimum during the crucial last stages of the animal’s life.

Yet, the UK’s smallest abattoirs are currently facing an unprecedented crisis. With high running costs and an industry increasingly geared towards centralised, industrial food systems, many of them are losing money and find it hard to see how this will change.

There are now only 56 small red meat abattoirs left in the UK, with a third having closed between 2007 and 2017 and a further seven closing this year.

The crisis is due in part to a collapse in the value of hides and skins, with small abattoirs currently being paid as little as £4.50 for cattle hides and 10p for sheep skins, compared with £35 and £6.50 respectively a few years ago.

At the same time, waste disposal costs for most small abattoirs have increased significantly due to consolidation in the rendering industry and higher minimum charges for small quantities. Small abattoirs also face a range of other costs which make it difficult for them to compete economically with large slaughterhouses.

This puts small abattoirs at a major disadvantage compared with the very large slaughterhouses which process animals for multiple retailers. Large slaughterhouses have received tens of millions of pounds of public money in grants and also benefit from economies of scale, but the animals they slaughter generally travel many hundreds of miles at the cost of their welfare and the environment.

The Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) launched a report at last year’s Oxford Real Farming Conference which exposed the critical situation for small abattoirs. This sparked the formation of the Campaign for Local Abattoirs which is a coalition between the SFT, National Craft Butchers, the National Sheep Association and other producers and abattoir owners. We have worked this past year to raise the issues facing small abattoirs with Defra and the FSA, as well as bringing them to media attention. We published a joint letter to Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove, signed by 34 organisations, which can be read here. We are now calling for small abattoirs to be recognised as a ‘public good’ and for grants to be made available to help with the cost of structural improvements and investment in equipment. At present, these are only available to the 15 smallest abattoirs in Wales, with the Welsh Government having provided £1.1 million in funding specifically for this purpose.

We have also been conducting a survey of small abattoirs, the results of which will be presented at our session at this year’s ORFC.

So please come along, join our session and hear from our expert panel, Chaired by Lady Parker of Fir Farm, Gloucestershire, and with John Mettrick, President of National Craft Butchers and small abattoir owner, Bob Kennard, SFT Policy advisor and joint author of our report, Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association, and Nick Palmer, Head of Policy at Compassion in World Farming.

The session takes place at 9am on Thursday 3rd January in the Christopher Room, St Aldate’s Conference Centre.

By Megan Perry, Sustainable Food Trust

The next generation: Connecting young farmers

The Sustainable Food Trust and New Food Entrepreneurs are hosting an evening session at the ORFC aimed at the next generation of food producers. How do we encourage more people to become “real farmers”? What are the problems young farmers and new entrants face? And how can we tackle these?

We know that the average age of farmers in the UK is 59 and that there are fewer young people coming forward to replace them, so how do we secure the future of sustainable food production in the UK? It seems clear that we need more people to see agriculture as a viable livelihood and to engage in “real farming”.

“Farming is too much hard work for not enough pay.” The economic burden on farmers is one of the main reasons many young people from farming families are choosing other career paths. Cost of land and housing and poor economic incentives drive people away from agriculture and are prohibitive to new entrants. County farms and starter farms, along with other models such as share farming, are important to enable the next generation.

Despite the difficulties, farming can provide a meaningful, healthy and rewarding occupation. But there is a need for clear information for young people – with so many choices to make, it can seem a daunting task. What to produce? How to sell it? Who can help find land, loans, expertise, training and so on? Who can help with business planning advice and support?

There is a lot of information and support for would-be food producers “out there”, but it can be immensely time-consuming to find it and, at times, bewildering to sift through to what’s relevant for the searcher. Too many websites are out of date. Too many programmes are no longer running. It’s enough to put off all but the most determined.

In our session we will hear from young people who have just started out, who have pursued innovative ideas and who are making a success of their ventures. We will also hear from farmers who have been in the business a long time and can offer some wisdom and perspective to people just beginning their journey. The session is for all those looking to get into farming and for young farmers to come along and feel a sense of community – it can often be a lonely business and one where likeminded young people are hard to meet. Now is your chance to come together, grab a drink and join the conversation. We hope to see you there!

Session details:

Secrets of Success: Young farmers and new entrants

7pm on 3rd January, upstairs in St Aldate’s Tavern

New Food Entrepreneurs is a project of the Conservation Farming Trust, which aims to bring together partners from across the sector to help answer these questions and create a facilitating environment for would-be producers. We have been collecting stories from successful enterprises to inspire a new community of entrants to the sector and will be working with partners to curate a programme of services and activities to support them in the coming months. If you’d like to share your story or lend your support, we’d love to hear from you.

The Sustainable Food Trust is a registered charity that works to accelerate the transition to more sustainable food systems. Founded in 2011 by Patrick Holden, we seek to work catalytically and collaboratively to bring about change. Some of our key areas of work include true cost accounting, our campaign for local abattoirs, our work on bringing about convergence in on-farm sustainability assessment and the role of livestock in sustainable systems.

By Megan Perry, Sustainable Food Trust

Press Release: Michael Gove to attend Oxford Real Farming Conference

Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affair, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP will be attending the 10th annual Oxford Real Farming Conference on 3rd January 2019, to take part in a Q&A session. This session will be hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology and chaired by Kerry McCarthy.

Following last year’s packed out plenary session with Michael Gove and Zach Goldsmith, the Secretary of State will return this year to answer questions about the future of farming in the UK.

Kerry McCarthy said: “I’m very pleased that the Secretary of State has accepted an invitation to speak at the ORFC for the second year running. It shows that agroecological approaches are entering the mainstream, and gaining in influence. This will be an ideal opportunity to quiz him on the Agriculture Bill currently going through Parliament, and of course, Brexit.”

This will compliment a raft of other sessions that dig deeper into the future of farming post-Brexit – with issues ranging from fishing policy to animal welfare regulation, and with debates exploring the value of natural capital, what constitutes a healthy diet and how to hold government to account for a ‘Green Brexit’. A full list of sessions can be found here.

Tickets for the ORFC have now sold out, with this year’s capacity larger than ever at 1,000 attendees. And with almost 100 sessions across the two days featuring more than 200 speakers, it is sure to be a memorable event.


For more information or to apply for press accreditation, please contact: press@orfc.org.uk


Kerry McCarthy is the Co-Chair of the APPG on Agroecology, member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environmental Audit Select Committees, and was previously the Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

About the Oxford Real Farming Conference (www.orfc.org.uk):

In 2009, agricultural writer Graham Harvey invited Colin Tudge and Ruth West to help establish a new kind of farming conference. The conference, first held in 2010 as a much-needed alternative to the concurrently-running Oxford Farming Conference, provides an innovative environment for some radical discussions on some of the biggest issues facing our society today. ORFC delegates are those from across food and farming, with an interest in agroecology: a set of guiding principles to encourage whole farm systems that care for the biosphere and provide healthy nutritious food for all. The point of the ORFC is not simply to challenge the status quo but to look ahead — to ask what the world really needs, and what really can be done.

Chelsea Green @ ORFC 2019

9th December 2019

Chelsea Green have a stall at ORFC 2019 and have very kindly sponsored two of their authors, Eliot Coleman and Steve Gabriel, to fly over from the US to speak at the conference. Here they explain more about who they are, what they do, and how they are involved in ORFC…

Chelsea Green Publishing was founded in 1984, in the small rural state of Vermont, USA. We started as a family-owned business, publishing books that were both inspiring and practical, empowering people to improve their skills and educate themselves in farming, food, activism, sustainability and more. 35 years later, and Chelsea Green is an employee-owned company, working directly with authors who are not only talented writers, but practising their craft and making change in their own communities.

In 2018, we opened our London office, with the aim of bringing UK authors in farming, food and more onto our list, and helping our current authors and their books reach a British audience.

In a world where publishing is more and more consolidated, Chelsea Green has forged a path as a passionate, independent publisher, bringing practical, accessible expert content to people around the world.

We believe in supporting the farmers, growers and producers who can help shape a better food system and to publish books which inspire people to get their hands dirty and their minds engaged. As fans and supporters of the Oxford Real Farming Conference we’re hugely excited that two of our authors will be speaking and participating this year.

Eliot Coleman
Long-time organic farmer Eliot Coleman has been working with Chelsea Green since The New Organic Grower was originally published in 1989. We’re celebrating the newly updated 30th anniversary edition of this seminal book, and Eliot will be speaking at ORFC about his 50 years experience as an organic farmer, as well as participating in a special session on tool customisation, another area in which he is a renowned pioneer.



Steve Gabriel

We’re passionate about agroforestry and its potential to improve climate resiliency and diversify the way farmland is used. Chelsea Green author Steve Gabriel will be speaking first thing on day one about his work in silvopasture – the agroforestry practice that combines trees, animals, and forages. Steve will invite attendees to explore an approach to ecological farming that ranks among the best solutions to climate change, whilst providing an ethical and productive system for healthy livestock.

Book signings at ORFC
Chelsea Green will have book signings with both authors during the conference as well as a stall full of our best titles on regenerative and organic agriculture, permaculture, agroforestry, farm entrepreneurship and much more. All Chelsea Green titles will be 30% off for ORFC.

Other UK events for Eliot & Steve
Steve and Eliot also have a full schedule of events whilst they’re visiting the UK and we welcome you to attend any of the lectures, workshops, and public conversations that they are participating in. Please visit the Chelsea Green book stand to find out more.

Eliot’s UK Events

Eliot Coleman and Guy Singh-Watson in conversation on the future of organic farming.

Eliot Coleman and Iain Tolhurst in conversation.

Eliot Coleman at Glebelands.

Steve’s UK Events

Growing Trees in Grazing Systems.

Silvopasture for Climate Resiliency.

by Rosie Baldwin, Chelsea Green Publishers

Agricology @ ORFC 2019

7th December 2019

Agricology are very involved in the Oxford Real Farming Conference – they are a sponsor (without which we would not be able to host the conference and for which we are hugely grateful!) and along with the Soil Association and Pasture Fed Livestock Association are curating the Farming Practice strand of sessions at ORFC 2019. Here they explain more about who they are, what they do, and how they are involved in ORFC…



Agricology is a collaboration of farmers, researchers and advisers who are working towards a more resource efficient, resilient and profitable farming systems based on agroecology principles. We bring together the latest advice on transitioning to sustainable farming practices by sharing key learnings through online resources and events in the field. Each month we publish a farmer or grower profile showcasing the use of agroecology in practice to enhance their agricultural system; demonstrated through videos, images, ideas and practical tips. We also provide showcase guest blogs and research hubs for researchers to share what they are learning directly with the farming community and have a growing library of over 300 resources.

For practical tips and expert advice join the conversation @agricology or visit our website to learn more about putting agroecology into practice with our friendly community of farmers and researchers. We also run field based events and are active participants in many of our partner conferences – all details and content is shared on our website. Sign up to our newsletter for a round up of all our activities and resources.

At the Oxford Real Farming Conference we will be hosting the ‘Farm Practice’ room (Assembly Room and St Aldate’s Room) at ORFC19 along with our friends at the PFLA and Soil Association. Our focus will be on practical agronomy and putting agroecology into practice. Bringing together researchers and farmers to share their experiences with agroecological practices including intercropping, diverse leys and integrated pest management. Over the course of the two days they will be sharing practical tips and exploring a diverse range of topics in interactive talks, panel discussions and breakout sessions. For more information come along and join us!

Farm Practice Room Programme:

The first of these sessions will examine ‘intercropping in research and practices’ and how growing crops together presents opportunities for enhancing the resource use efficiency and resilience of cropping systems. The panel includes Cereal Pathologist Dr. Adrian Newton (James Hutton Institute), Dr. Charlotte Bickler and Katie Bliss (ORC) and Andy Howard (Bockhanger Farm). They will explore the potential of ‘plant teams’ in theory and practice, and share some of the practical findings from the Innovative Farmers and Diversify Field Lab. For more information on this topic visit our website and see other examples such as the potential for companion cropping and intercropping on UK arable farms or is intercropping the way forward for arable?

Another session will look at ‘managing pests biologically’ through an integrated approach, including improving our knowledge of pest lifecycles and integrating habitat to encourage their enemies. During this session Charlotte Rowley (AHDB), Richard Pyell (CEH) and Julian Gold (Hendred Farm) will share experiences and tips from their scientific and practical understanding to help us look to design pest resilient farming systems for the future. For more information on this topic visit our website and see other examples such as integrated pest management, the Sustainable control of crop pests or bringing in the bugs.

There will also be a session on ‘plants in the wrong place’ that focuses on Agroecological approaches to weed control – looking at including direct, cultural and biological control methods. Our speakers include weed biologist, Lynn Tatnell (ADAS) and plant ecologist Jonathan Storkey (Rothamstead Research) who will outline agroecological approaches to managing weeds with examples of some of the most troublesome arable and horticultural weed species. For more information on this topic visit our website and see other examples such as crop protection in reduced tillage systems, crop rotation and its ability to suppress perennial weeds or tackling the footprint of pests, weeds & diseases in our food system.

Our final session, ‘Ley of the land’, will delve into integrating leys in cropping systems for soil health. Many progressive farmers and growers are seeing the benefits of integrating leys into cropping systems – for weed management and soil health. The panel will include senior soil scientist Dr. Lizzie Sagoo (ADAS), Dr. Lydia Smith (NIAB) and Joe Howard (Little Morton Farm) who will together explore these benefits as well as the practical and financial implications from their research and experience in the field. For more information on this topic visit our website and see other examples such as rotational benefits of leys – looking to the future, herbal leys, the herbal ley farming system and using legume-based mixtures to enhance the nitrogen use efficiency and economic viability of cropping systems.

by Lydia Moore, Agricology

Press Release: ORFC celebrates its 10th year

The programme has just been released for the much-loved Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC), now in its tenth year. The 2019 conference will be the biggest yet – with more sessions, more delegates and an additional venue.

Taking place on 3-4 January 2019 in the Oxford Town Hall, the ORFC is open to all who are interested in working towards a more sustainable food and agricultural system, from farmers and growers to scientists and policy-makers.

As always, the conference features sessions on a wide range of important themes, from practical management to in-depth policy debates. As well as showcasing new techniques for best practice in agroecological farming, there will be broader discussions on what must happen to create real, worthwhile change in our food system. Speakers will include pioneering organic farmer Eliot Coleman; Vivien Sansour, founder of the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library; and agroforestry expert, Steve Gabriel.

This year’s programme stands out with its timely discussions around key issues for the future of UK food and farming, including sessions on the Agriculture Bill and life after Brexit, a theme around public goods, including a debate on natural capital, and of course we don’t shy away from addressing controversial issues with a discussion about veganism and what constitutes a sustainable diet.

For practitioners there is a wealth of knowledge, with sessions exploring agroforestry, soil management, pasture regeneration, mulching, drought resilience, business advice and much more.

The conference delves into some hot topics, including honest food labelling, rewilding and problems of pollution, from chemicals to plastics. There’s also an emphasis around local food systems, with discussions on direct sales, box schemes, community supported agriculture as well as a session exploring how we can save local abattoirs.

And as always with ORFC we intersperse this with things not often covered by a farming conference! This year we’ve got singing, explorations of spirituality and empowering women.

Co-founder, Ruth West, said: “I’m looking forward to that moment when after all the preparation the doors finally open and the two days begin of debating, listening, learning; catching up on old friendships, making new ones. But while we celebrate our 10th and the growth in recognition and acceptance of the importance of ‘real’ farming aka agroecology, there’ll be a somber note to proceedings as we prepare for the inevitable challenges the year ahead will bring.”

Conference Manager, Tom Simpson, said: “It has been exciting putting together this year’s programme and the demand for tickets shows that the issues we are exploring are hugely relevant to people, 10 years after the first ORFC – maybe more than ever. There is a good balance between sessions organised by those who have been with ORFC from the start and new faces; there really is something for everyone. The addition of St Aldate’s Church as a conference venue will mean that there is lots of space for the networking and chats that go on between sessions, which are just as important as the stuff in the programme.”

All tickets for ORFC 2019 are now sold out. The programme can be viewed here: http://orfc.org.uk/orfc-programme-2019/

The ORFC would like to thank the following funders, sponsors and partner organisations, without whose support this event would not be possible: Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Riverford, Compassion in World Farming, Lush, A-Team Foundation, the Soil Association, Agricology, Cotswold Seeds, Triodos Bank, Landworkers’ Alliance, the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association and Sustain.

To apply for press accreditation and for any interview requests, please contact: press@orfc.org.uk

ORFC 2019 Call for ideas

11th July 2018

We are just six months away from ORFC 2019 – the 10th anniversary of the conference. 

ORFC logo

ORFC is an annual gathering which brings together practicing mud-on-the-boots farmers and growers with scientists, economists, activists, and anyone else with a keen interest in food sovereignty, agriculture and everything in between. It offers a mix of practical and on-farm advice, new techniques for best practice in agroecological farming, discussions around our global food system and the economic and trade policies that affect British farming and much more. As always, the success of the conference is down to those that attend and we want to continue to put you are the heart of everything we do. 

Therefore, we are looking to you for the following: 

1. Proposals for sessions  

By proposing a session you are committing to taking on the bulk of its organising; we will want to know how the sessions will be chaired, who the speakers will be and how the audience will be engaged and encouraged to participate in the session. 

2. Ideas for speakers / topics / themes you’d like to feature at ORFC 2019 

We are looking at exploring new formats for ORFC 2019. Perhaps you don’t feel able to organise a session but would still like to let us know about someone you’ve heard speak who has inspired you, or suggest a particular topic that you would like to explore at ORFC 2019. Whatever you would like to feature at ORFC 2019, please get in touch and let us know.  

3. Thoughts on how we can celebrate the 10th anniversary of ORFC 

We feel the 10th anniversary is a chance to celebrate ORFC and everything that is good in real farming. We have some thoughts but we would welcome your ideas on how we should celebrate.  

We are hugely thankful to everyone who gets back to us about the conference. However, we receive many more responses to this annual email than we are able to honour and will only be able to take a select few proposals through to the conference.

The deadline for submissions is Friday 10th August 2018 Friday 24th August 2018 and we look forward to hearing from you. Please send your ideas by email to tom@orfc.org.uk  

If you have any questions or would like to discuss your idea with us before making a submission then please do not hesitate to get in touch. 

Tom Simpson – ORFC Manager 


Work for us! ORFC Conference Manager job opportunity

2019 will be our 10th anniversary.  So a special year for us – as well as the whole farming community as we face Brexit! And a huge opportunity for a Conference Manager to oversee a programme that can take us into this new era.

The deadline for applications has now passed.

New ORFC 2018 video resources available

Hello friends!

We are delighted to say that in addition to our comprehensive audio archive from ORFC 2018, we are now able to add four, full-length videos from our sessions.

Great thanks to Zoe Broughton who undertook this additional filming and editing for us.

DAY ONE – Brexit: the state of play – do we know what’s coming over the horizon?


DAY ONE – ORFC 2018 Full plenary Q&A session with Environment Secretary Michael Gove MP


DAY ONE – Whatever is happening to the world’s insects?


DAY TWO – Civil disobedience and policy change