Carter Jonas
Carter Jonas

Heartening outcome from Oxford Farming Conference

I was fortunate to attend the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC), one of the key events in the UK agricultural calendar, as a guest of Carter Jonas having entered their on-line competition for a free place for someone aged 30 and under.

I am currently completing graduate studies in Agriculture at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester. For two years prior to this I worked as a strategist at a marketing agency having completed my undergraduate studies in Philosophy and Economics at LSE. I decided to attend the RAU to improve my knowledge in order to take over the family farm.

The conference was a fantastic opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the issues affecting agriculture from the policymakers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and, of course, farmers who are at the heart of it all. As well as the illuminating talks, one of the best aspects of the OFC was the conversations that happened at dinners and coffee breaks, where I could explore the topics of the day.

A personal highlight was having the opportunity to speak at the Oxford Union during the conference debate “This house believes that agriculture is an equal opportunities industry”. The subject was particularly appropriate with The Real Oxford Farming Conference - a conference set up as an antidote to the official, Oxford Farming Conference occurring just down the road. I believe that there is still much to be done to widen participation in the industry so that it can attract the brightest and the best from all walks of life, who will be the drivers of the next phase of agricultural progress. Scholarship programmes such as the one run by the OFC, are a very important part of this and it was a real privilege to be able to join in with such a talented, inquisitive group.

Both days of the conference commenced with a Politics session, DEFRA Secretary of State Liz Truss and her Labour shadow secretary Kerry McCarthy on day one and former Secretary of State Owen Paterson and Phil Hogan, the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, on day two.

The first session was a whistle-stop tour of DEFRA policy with Liz Truss and Kerry McCarthy. Truss was the consummate politician; cool, clear and collected, while McCarthy overcame her lack of agricultural knowledge with a show of warmth and enthusiasm that left many with a much more favourable impression of her than expected.

The hotly anticipated EU debate saw passionate performances from both sides but the question that had been on everyone’s lips “what would the government do to replace CAP and subsidy payments?” was left unanswered. Although Paterson highlighted the savings the country would make on EU contributions many delegates that I spoke to were not confident that agriculture would take priority over departments such as health, defence, and education when it came to spending it. There was a clear sense that people preferred “stick with the devil you know” until the government produced a clear statement of its plans in the event of Brexit.

Coming away from the conference, I felt full of new ideas that I would be able to take back to my studies and subsequent entry into farming. The theme of this year’s conference was “Bold Agriculture” and it was heartening, following a year in which the news has been filled with stories of low commodity prices and adverse weather, to see the positivity and desire for progress among the delegates as they approached this subject.

Camilla Hayselden-Ashby

steven carter jonas

Steven McLaughlinFRICS FAAV


Steven is a Partner based in our Rural Team in Oxford and is head of Rural Valuation for the firm. He advises private and institutional clients on a diverse range of rural asset valuations for all pur...

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