Navigating Agriculture’s Future Beyond Political Rhetoric: Insight from Oxford Farming Conference

By Emily Durrant-Munro

It’s election year in the UK so the fast and furious series of promises from the now and the likely Sec. of State for Farming Food and Rural Affairs at this year’s Oxford Farming Conference were to be expected.  The Rt Hon Steve Barclay finished with “more money, more choice, more trust“.  What does this really mean for farmers’ ability to respond to the climate crisis?  The answer to that will only be in the detail. 

Steve Barclay, MP
Steve Reed MP

The politicians attending the conference always take centre stage, but the real value of this event for me was in the series of fantastic break-outs and 1-2-1 conversations in the after-bubble of agri chat. And this is where I felt the hope of inspiration, innovation and great endeavour from the pool of clever and interested people in the room.  Take the National Farmer’s Union’s Ali Capper, who eloquently reminds us all that “…farmers need to make a profit and that this goal for farmers should never be diminished or demonised as it is increasingly done so in the UK.”  The drive for net zero is a serious and urgent call to action but progress for many farmers involves enormous investment and a high risk tolerance.  In an ever-changing climate (the irony is not lost on anyone in the room), this risk becomes less and less palatable.

National Farmer’s Union’s Ali Capper

One session focused on impact data and metrics, where ADM’s Jonathan Lane (image 4916) brought their journey to emissions reduction and regenerative agriculture to the audience. He explained how they started with measurement (Cool Farm via agri-consultancy Map of Ag) and have taken nearly 10% of farmers through a programme of work to inform and support them in management changes.  Jonathan’s passion and belief for good quality data and farmer engagement was palpable.  Map of Ag’s Hugh Martineau followed Jonathan and told the audience that transparency and openness are essential features for them when selecting a GHG quantification tool. As a member of Cool Farm, Map of Ag gets value out of being able to understand, scrutinise and respond to the Cool Farm Tool/Platform and participate in the process of continual refinement and development.  

ADM’s Jonathan Lane
Map of Ag’s Hugh Martineau 

I kicked off the Q&A session by asking how exactly they see change on the ground come about – Jonathan explained that there’s a roughly 20% push from farmers for change and 80% pull from ADM’s customers.  It’s the companies that are driving, seeking to achieve ambitious net zero targets.  Hugh Martineau added that the upcoming Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, emerging from the Climate-Related Financial Disclosures Task Force, will ramp up this pull factor in the coming months and years.

Lastly (though I could tell many more stories), AHDB and ITN launched their recent short film which featured Cool Farm’s CEO Rich Profit and Agriculture Manager, Charlie Curtis.  The film had a fantastic reception and the discussion that followed was kicked-off with the great mind of Prof. John Gilliland (image 4916).  John extolled the pivotal role that data plays in good quality on farm decisions and described his work in securing £45 million of funding for data collection and farmer engagement in Northern Ireland.  Incredibly, they found an 80% success rate in achieving behaviour change by merely collecting farm data and giving it back to farmers to digest and act on. This act of democratising knowledge and empowering farmers is one that not only governments but all of us can learn from.

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