Amidst the Covid uncertainty for people, travel and gatherings, the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) will run a vibrant series of OFC Bitesize webinars culminating in a digital OFC 2021.
OFC Bitesize will run monthly, via the OFC website, from 4 June, and will draw opinion from a host of different businesses and geographies, chaired by the conference’s influential directors.
“Since the OFC started in 1936, other than the war years, it has been held annually ever since so 2021 will see us host our 75th conference.,” says OFC 2021 Chair, Sally Williams. “To commemorate the influence of the event and the speakers that we have attracted over the past nine decades, OFC Bitesize will pick a theme from a past conference and debate its sentiments.”
The headline themes include Food and Farming in a Changing World (1961), The Shape of Things to Come (1965) and Farming Under Pressure (1971).
“People keep saying that Covid has brought us an unprecedented time, this may, or may not be true, but what we all do know is that there is likely to be a new normal after this pandemic that will force change,” she adds. “As a young dairy farmer, I’m both nervous and optimistic about the future; my overriding hope is that we learn from these times and agriculture rises up the agenda.”
She adds that, in people’s physical isolation, there is an increased need for mental engagement and debate. “We feel that the OFC retains an important role in stimulating important debate, hence the launch of OFC Bitesize.”
Given the OFC’s charitable status, Ms Williams says that the OFC Council has had to make the decision about cancelling the 2021 conference now. “We run the event at break-even or a slight loss, so we couldn’t have the uncertainty of booking the Oxford University only for us to have to cancel.
“As a Council we have talked long and hard about how we best deliver a successful and focussed conference next year. Whilst disappointed at not being able to hold a physical conference, we are very excited at the possibilities afforded to us by taking the conference fully virtual.
“Through the use of digital tools, we will be able to provide a rich experience bringing together international speakers who we might otherwise not have been able to include in the line-up. Never before has it been more important that we look beyond our shores and learn from our colleagues across the world.”
Taking place on Thursday 7th January, the 2021 OFC digital conference will include the politics, inspiring farmers, the Frank Parkinson Lecture, and the OFC Debate, providing a provocative virtual experience with the opportunity to engaged through online networking and Q & A.
OFC Bitesize will be hosted at lunchtime on the first Thursday of every month offering a free one-hour webinar.
The 4 June event will borrow a title from the 1930s – The Business Organisation of Farming. Speakers include the President of the Tenant Farmers Association George Dunn, Institutional Agricultural Investor and Nuffield Scholar, Angus Selby, Scottish Land and Estates CEO Sarah-Jayne Laing and the Groceries Code Adjudicator, Christine Tacon.
Emily Norton, OFC Director, and Head of Rural Research at Savills UK, will chair the session, she said:
“The conference in 1939 investigated the business organisation of farming, a topic that is of critical relevance today as we face an agricultural transition period that shifts responsibility for farm viability from the government to farm businesses themselves.
“The Agriculture Bill contains measures to invest in public goods but also plenty around supply chain regulation – in theory offering greater protection to farming businesses. What role should supply chains have in farm business viability? Are the supply chain provisions of the Ag Bill an opportunity, or a threat, to UK farming businesses? Our panel will explore the topic along with farm business structures, agricultural subsidies and what the Business Organisation of Farming means in 2020 and beyond.”
To watch the free webinars, visit www.ofc.org.uk to register and view the schedule.