Environment Secretary Michael Gove MP addressed the ninth annual Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) in a marked departure from the usual, formal style expected of the Defra Secretary of State, in an open Q&A session chaired and facilitated by Zac Goldsmith MP for Richmond.
A relaxed Michael Gove talked with a room full of hundreds of farmers, and academics, activists, campaigners. While some attendees came expecting to be hostile to the Secretary – the first to have been invited to speak at the ORFC – and by no means let him off the hook with the nature of their questions, the mood in the room seemed largely positive.
Colin Tudge, ORFC co-founder said: “The Secretary is certainly saying all the things that we believe is the only way to deliver our food and farming future, such as touting the benefits and viability of small to medium mixed farms, or recognising that present-day farming is largely not sustainable nor socially desirable.”
But questions remain for the ORFC organisers.
Colin said: “Michael Gove MP is the Secretary of State, but how much power does he actually have given that he’s a member of a party and a government, both subject to banks, corporates and multilateral agreements, all of which must surely exert more pressure as we go through Brexit and our various trade negotiations.”
Another concern is the unavoidable issue of succession. Colin explained: “Defra Ministers don’t stay in this job very long as a rule. And do Mr Gove’s welcome and refreshing statements represent a change of mood in government, or is he a maverick whose work will be undone?”
The conference organisers are clear that we must see what action comes from the statements made today, particularly regarding public payments for public good, as a next step on from the existing CAP payments.
These issues are very much an area of concern for ORFC delegates, as reflected in the sessions at this year’s conference, which include:
- Brexit-related issues, such as the public benefits or goods we could be seeking to generate from our new farming and land management policies
- The threats of falling diversity of farms and the value of supporting new farms and farmers
- Permaculture and bio-intensive methods for highly productive and profitable growing on a small scale while protecting the biosphere and sequestering carbon
- Realising the benefits of pasture-based farming for Britain
Colin concluded: “We should maintain the grassroots energy that the ORFC represents, it as crucial now as it ever was. It is tempting to rely on government when such positive things are being said, but we must not leave our futures solely in their hands. Too much depends on it.”
For more information, photos and interviewees, please contact:
Katharine Mansell, ORFC Marketing and Communications Manager
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Conference quick links:
- Programme PDF: http://orfc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/ORFC-Programme_2018_LR.pdf
- More info on evening activities here: http://orfc.org.uk/orfc-2018/evening-entertainment/
- Our blog archive, containing opinion pieces on issues from agroforestry and flooding, to Brexit and glyphosate: http://orfc.org.uk/blog/
- Our twitter account: https://twitter.com/ORFC and conference hashtag: #ORFC18
For conference enquiries please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Oxford Real Farming Conference sponsors:
The ORFC would like to thank the following the following funders, sponsors and partner organisations, without whose support this event would not be possible: Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Riverford, Compassion in World Farming, the Soil Association, Landworkers Alliance, the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association, Triodos Bank, Sustain and Cotswold Seeds.
About the Oxford Real Farming Conference (www.orfc.org.uk):
In 2009, agricultural writer Graham Harvey (now of Pasture Promise TV) invited Colin Tudge and Ruth West (founders of the Campaign for Real Farming) 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 new agricultural models. They represent those who are interested in meeting global food system challenges in original, environmentally sustainable ways. The point of the ORFC is not simply to attack the status quo but to look ahead — to ask what the world really needs, and what really can be done.