Farm Practice for the Future at ORFC

The Oxford Real Farming Conference is fast approaching and on 3rd and 4th January 1,000 delegates, including more than 200 expert speakers, will take part in a record number of sessions for this year’s 10th anniversary event.

ORFC has always been geared towards providing a knowledge sharing platform for farmers and growers, and with 50% of the audience consisting of farmers this year, the practice-focused sessions are sure to be popular.

Below is a taster of what to expect:

As ever, sustainable soil management remains high on the agenda, and with good reason as we head towards critical levels of global soil degradation. This year we delve into this with speakers including soil scientists Jennifer Dungait, Felicity Crotty, Neil Fuller and Simon Parfey. While farmers Fidelity Weston, Hannah Steenbergen, Abby Rose and Fred Price lead a session on how farmers can become soil health experts.

We also learn lessons from farmers who suffered during this summer’s drought. Pasture-fed livestock farmers John Cherry, Sam Parsons and Rob Havard will look at how they fared and discuss how to be prepared for future extreme weather events.

Research suggests silvopasture – the agroforestry practice that combines trees, animals and forages – far outpaces any grassland technique for counteracting the methane emissions of livestock and sequestering carbon. This year we are lucky to have expert Steve Gabriel who 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. We will also hear from farmers who have made a start creating this system, as well as a livestock researcher who will look at the nutritional and behavioural benefits of access to trees for livestock. And we’ll delve into the practicalities for those looking to get started too, answering questions on planning, marketing and business for wood products.

Another important topic, 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. Speakers will include Cereal Pathologist Dr. Adrian Newton (James Hutton Institute), Dr. Charlotte Bickler and Katie Bliss (ORC) and Andy Howard (Bockhanger Farm).

Many progressive farmers and growers are seeing the benefits of integrating leys into cropping systems for weed management and soil health. Senior soil scientist Dr. Lizzie Sagoo (ADAS), Dr. Lydia Smith (NIAB) and Joe Howard (Little Morton Farm) will together explore these benefits as well as the practical and financial implications from their research and experience in the field. 

Pests and weeds
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.

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. 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.

Finally, have you ever lamented the scant selection of tools on the market for small scale vegetable production in the UK? Many growers are already reinventing tools to maximise efficiency and make tough jobs less demanding. Learn from the experience and ingenuity of Eliot Coleman and Adam Payne, on how they have adapted and redesigned hand tools and tractor-mounted equipment to best suit their operations.