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.