Rural community encouraged to ‘embrace change’

The UK’s agriculture sector needs to question its approach and its thinking in order to grow and prosper, according to organisers of the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) which gets underway today.

Leading figures from across the food, farming and rural community will gather at Oxford University for the 72nd running of the three-day event, where they will be encouraged to ‘Embrace Change’ – the conference’s key theme.

The OFC believes the opportunities for the UK’s agriculture sector are “huge, but farmers need to be honest about what changes need to be made for the sector to progress – at a personal, family and business level”.

This year’s conference will include a diverse programme of high-profile speakers, panel sessions, politics sessions and networking. Topics under discussion will range from addressing behavioural changes within family businesses to the role of digital within British farming.

Secretary of State for Defra Michael Gove MP, Paolo de Castro MEP, vice-chairman to the European Parliament’s committee on agriculture and rural development, and Ted McKinney, under secretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will all speak at the conference.

Environmentalist and author Mark Lynas, whose 2013 appearance ranks as the most viewed session in the history of the OFC, is also returning to speak at the conference, where he will be joined by new Co-op chief executive, Steve Murrells, and botanist, science writer and broadcaster, James Wong.

Food culture expert Eve Turow Paul will also discuss changing food values and how farmers and supply chains can adapt to embrace the trends of the millennial generation in the annual Frank Parkinson Lecture.

Among the 250 delegates at the OFC will be Duncan Sigournay, Mark Charter, Anita Symington and Robert James from Thrings, who will keep abreast of developments from the food and farming sectors and liaise with their industry contacts.

The firm is strengthening its long-term commitment to the conference by co-sponsoring the OFC Oxford Union debate and the post-debate supper at Christ Church - one of the university’s largest colleges – for the first time.

The motion of "this House believes that by 2100 meat eating will be a thing of the past" will be proposed by journalist and campaigner, George Monbiot, and Philip Lymbery, chief executive of Compassion in World Farming. They will be opposed by farmer and broadcaster, Gareth Wyn Jones, and farmer and researcher, Emily Norton.

Duncan Sigournay, who is head of agriculture at Thrings, says: “We are delighted to be increasing our involvement in the conference this year. With all the current uncertainty within the sector surrounding future trading relations with Europe and beyond, as well as what will replace Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), it is more important than ever that Thrings remains at the heart of the industry.

“There will undoubtedly be challenges ahead but equally for those farmers willing and able to adapt there will also be opportunities. Key to that flexibility will be a strong underlying business. The OFC typically sets the tone for the industry for the coming year and it continues to be an event we are very proud to be associated with.”
Thrings will be keeping its clients and colleagues up to date with key developments from the conference via its @ThringsAgri Twitter feed.

Read more about this year’s OFC here.

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