Oxford Farming Conference: Routes to Resilience

Senior associate Jonathan Thompson reports from the 2022 Oxford Farming Conference.

A very thought-provoking first day of the Oxford Farming Conference. This was emphasised by 6 January’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme running the new environmental land management schemes as headline news. This was doubtless because the media were watching the conference.

The presentations throughout the day focused on the conference theme of ‘Routes to Resilience’. The routes are not just about the commercial aims of land managers/food and drink producers; it is also about routes in terms of land management and also how we all approach food and drink purchase and consumption. Resilience could mean acceptance of higher food and drink prices in order to safeguard national food production.

Land management is one part of agriculture’s role in climate change reversal. There is a link but also a conflict between overall food and drink production and good environmental approaches in land managers’ effects on the climate. This is in terms of land management and production as part of the supply chain and its climate impact.

In terms of legal aspects of land management, we believe there will need to be a new approach to the component parts of land - air, soil, water and how they are approached in commercial terms. Land was legally regarded as above ground (airspace/light); the land itself; sporting rights (land and water) and then below land (minerals, oils and hydrocarbons). Natural capital is fast becoming a statutory entity, being a concept to be considered in deals and drafting contracts, tenancies and transfers of land.

There is now an additional component that is intertwined in all three of air, soil and water – carbon. It will need to be treated separately in legal transactions.

There are various carbon mitigation schemes: carbon trading is starting. Carbon has a value and must be considered in all land and land right transactions.

These link to the new agri-environmental schemes such as the Sustainable Farming Incentive and the Environmental Land Management Scheme. Private and public rights in natural capital and particularly carbon are an evolution in land law, nearly 100 years coincidentally since the then revolutionary Law of Property Act 1925.

The agility needed in dealing with reversing climate change, the end of the Common Agricultural Policy with Brexit and the Agriculture Act 2020 and the Environment Act 2021 herald changes at personal, commercial and legal levels for landowners and managers.

For more information about anything discussed in this article, please contact Jonathan Thompson.

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