Campaign for Real Farming conference
Campaign for Real Farming Conference 5 & 6 Janusy 2012
This high powered and wide-ranging event took place in Oxford early in January. Permaculture CEO Andy Goldring was among the speakers on using polyculture in farm scale food production. Below is a summary of the themes of the conference. (A comprehensive programme with biographies of all the individual speakers, can be found in the pdf link at the bottom of this report).
Opening Statement of the conference
Agriculture needed serious re-thinking even before the present crises – financial, political, environmental, humanitarian. Now almost everyone who does not deliberately blind themselves to the obvious can see that the re-thinking is urgent. The Oxford Real Farming Conferences are designed to help this re-thinking – and to encourage farmers to take the lead, because hands-on farmers understand farming best, and yet they are routinely sidelined when it comes to making policy. The ORFC of January 2012 – the third in the series – continues what is already a tradition – but now with the inescapable sense that we must move very quickly beyond discussion and into serious action.
The task is threefold:
1: We must design agriculture as if we truly intended to feed people without wrecking the rest of the world – what has been called “Enlightened Agriculture”, or “Real Farming”. It doesn’t do simply to treat farming as “a business like any other”, with a brief to maximize wealth and make rich people richer.
2: We must ensure that farming has its own momentum and continuity so that it continues to thrive whatever may happen to governments – rather as the world’s banks are able to do, although without their obvious drawbacks. The job of farming is to serve humanity and look after the Earth but to do this it has at least to achieve the kind of quasi-autonomy, the status, that’s enjoyed for example by medicine.
3: To achieve all this, we – humanity as a whole – must in effect rescue agriculture.
The events in Britain alone over the past 40 years illustrate a dozen times over that governments are not to be trusted with it. Small mixed farms, biologically unimpeachable, wildlife-friendly, humane, and serving their communities well, have been replaced by ultra-commercial monocultures. Animals have been deformed and rammed into factories.
Tens of thousands of farmers have been thrown out of work, and the houses where they and their workers used to live have been sold off as holiday-homes. The most fertile land is on sale to the highest bidders, to do as they will. The world’s finest network of agricultural research stations and experimental husbandry farms have mostly been shut down or privatized – the most outrageous act of state-sponsored vandalism since the dissolution of the monasteries. Science, conceived as the disinterested search for truth, has become the hand-maiden of commerce.
We, people at large, Ordinary Joes, should not have allowed this to happen, and cannot allow it to continue. But to achieve the necessary changes we, people at large, must work with those farmers who still retain a sense of what farming ought to be, and with the scientists, however sidelined, who can see what has gone wrong and what needs to be done. Science needs rescuing too.
A sea-change is needed, in short, and we won’t bring this about in two days. But we will certainly help the momentum – and, with luck, we should trigger some new and practical initiatives that really could make a difference.
The deep structure of Agrarian Renaissance
Chaired By: Colin Tudge, Biologist and Writer
Speakers: Sir Crispin Tickell GCMG KCVO, foremost
authority on climate change
Graham Harvey, Writer and Campaigner
Patrick Krause, Chief Executive, Scottish Crofting Federation
Agriculture affects everything and is affected by everything. We cannot simply plug it in to the political ideologies and the economic dogmas that happen to be fashionable. So what kind of power structure, and what kind of economy, could truly support “Enlightened Agriculture” – the kind that is needed to feed us all well without destroying the rest of the world?
The future is grass
Chaired By: Graham Harvey
Speakers: Neil Darwent, Farm Manager, Lordswood Farms
Tom Malleson, Dairy Farmer
Chris Jones, Beef Farmer
Dave Stanley, Beef Farmer
Guy Beaufoy, Policy Manager, European Forum on Nature Conservation and
Britain has a unique ability to grow good grass. Not surprisingly grassland has played a key role in food production on this island since Neolithic times. But with the arrival of cheap oil and chemical fertilizers, grassland management has been neglected. We are now paying the price for this in reduced soil fertility, poor quality foods and lower returns for farmers. It’s now clear that well-managed grassland is essential for profitable and sustainable farming in the UK. There’s a lot of ground to make up.
Chaired By: Sue Everett, Consultant Ecologist and Editor, British Wildlife Conservation News
Speakers: Chris Smaje, Partner, Vallis Veg
Prof Martin Wolfe, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Organic Research Centre, Elm Farm.
Andy Goldring, Chief Executive, Permaculture Associatio
Some say that mixed, integrated, low (agrochemical & fossil fuel) input and labour intensive farming systems are the most sustainable and efficient ways of producing food. But talk to conventional British farmers and they will say that polyculture systems are irrelevant to modern times, and that even growing two crops in the same field is an irrelevant scenario. What are the arguments for scaling up small-scale forest-garden or polyculture approaches to farming in the UK? Can these systems be made relevant to a larger number of farmers and the British food industry and if so how?
Land, Energy & Carbon
Chaired By: Jamie Butterworth, CEO, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Speakers: Tom Curtis, Director, Landshare (CIC)
Adam Twine, Director, Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit (CIC)
Farms have huge potential for generating energy, but for many farmers the concern is how to prepare for escalating costs of fertiliser and fuel. This session takes a strategic look at farm energy flows and asks how we can insulate agriculture from future energy price shocks.
GM crops: the hype continues - but why?
Chaired By: Pete Riley, Campaign Director, GM Freeze
Speakers: Pete Riley
Lawrence Woodward, Whole Organic Plus
Ricarda Steinbrecher & Helena Paul, Econexus
Information on latest developments plus a chance to discuss ways to ensure agroecology and not GM is the priority. Pete Riley will provide a round up of the latest developments in all things GM, for both the EU and the USA. Lawrence Woodward will explore a practical example of how GM is aggressively promoted even when it’s not clear that it’s the best approach - showing how genetic modification is entirely unnecessary for controlling aphids in wheat. Finally, Ricarda Steinbrecher and Helena Paul will examine the hype that promotes GM as the solution to hunger, climate change, sustainable farming and malaria.
Connecting With Local Markets
Chaired By: Traci Lewis, Organic Buying Groups Project Manager, Soil Association
Speakers: Luke Hasell, The Community Farm and The Story Group
Helen Seymour, Headingley Development Trust
Iain Tolhurst, Tolhurst Organic Produce
Producer-consumer relationships are evolving and new examples of how farmers and their local communities can work together for mutual benefit are emerging. This workshop explores some of the ways you can transition your farm business to one which makes the most of community connections by combining business sense with a social conscience. This workshop will present examples from farms which have developed their businesses to ensure they have a strong local customer base - making good use of local marketing and appealing models, and working closely with community partners. Come to this workshop to find out more and ask the panel your questions.
Soil and Health
Sponsored By: Pasture Promise TV and Independent Soil Services Ltd
Speakers: Martin Lane, Field Science Ltd
Robert Plumb, Independent Soil Services Ltd
Neil Fuller, Soil Solutions Ltd
In 1959 the distinguished French biochemist and farmer Andre Voisin published his classic book Soil, Grass and Cancer. In it he explored the link between human and animal health and the mineral balance of the soil. He concludes that the principal aim of medicine must be to establish the cause of disease rather than to look only for cures. In particular attention should be concentrated on the chief source of health protection – the soil that produces our food. Fifty years later science is now beginning to confirm that Voisin was right.
Taking the Initiative
Chaired By: Mary Clear, campaigner
Speakers: Anthony Davison, Founder, BigBarn
Angie Bywater, Methanogen
Ed Hamer, Chagfood CSA
Julian Cottee, Cultivate
Nicole Vosper, Reclaim The Fields
For the Agrarian Renaissance to take hold, we need bold new ideas, mixing the best of the old with innovative techniques and approaches, to create the food systems of the future. We also need bold individuals who can seize on those ideas and make them a reality. People who just go for it. At the Oxford Real Farming Conference we are lucky enough to be able to bring together just these types of people – whether they’re farmers, campaigners, organisers, entrepreneurs or simple enthusiasts – and their ideas, for the sake of shared inspiration and information.
New generation, new ideas
Chaired By: Sam Henderson, Church Farm, Ardeley
Speakers: Rona Amiss, Duck and goose farmer, Higher Fingle Farm Dartmoor
Russell Carrington, Herefordshire Farmer
Ed Hamer, Chagfood CSA
Throughout history farming has used the skills, initiative and ambitions of its new entrants to feed a growing population with limited resources. Over the next 50 years we must demonstrate how this can now be achieved in the face of unprecedented environmental and economic shocks - from peak resources to volatile markets. This is the challenge for the the next generation of farmers – the new entrants who have a unique opportunity to make their new ideas count.
Why Large Pig Units Threaten our Health
Chaired By: Peter Melchett, Policy Director, The Soil Association
Speakers: Peter Lundgren, Farmer
Tracy Worcester, Director, Pig Business
James Davies, Local Foston campaigner
Johnny Lewis, Director, J S Lewis Ltd
Emma Hockridge, Head of policy, Soil Association
The scientific evidence Carter Ruck did not want you to hear - plus new evidence on the economics of large-scale dairies, the impact on family pig and dairy farms, and are AD units linked to industrial livestock units green-wash?’
What’s wrong with corporates?
Chaired By: Felicity Lawrence, special correspondent, The Guardian
Speakers: Felicity Lawrence
Lucy Ford, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, Oxford Brookes University
Helen Rimmer, Tescopoly Alliance
Dan Crossley, Principle Sustainability Advisor, Business Programme, Forum for the Future
Corporates have the power to do good and sometimes do – yet they also emerge as a threat to humanity and, in particular, to the cause of enlightened agriculture. Do they do bad things because they are badly run, or because they employ bad people? Or are they systemically flawed – and if so how? Is it wise to contemplate any kind of deal with corporates, or do we have to create something quite different?
On-line innovation: mapping the future
Chaired By: Chris Parker, Senior Manager, Product Marketing and Propositions (Communities), Ordnance Survey
Speakers: Helen Steer & Pete Boyce, City Farmers
Louise Campbell, FoodNation
Ed Dowding, Sustaination
Mark Goodwin MD, Geofutures
The people who are doing good things, the people who need help, and the people who want to help, need to be in touch with each other and with the world at large. Astute, informative maps of who’s doing what where can help the process no end. This workshop, hosted by Ordnance Survey’s open innovation network, GeoVation, explores the challenges mapping can be used to address, with innovative examples and contributions by local food and farming pioneers.
Policy Opportunities for Agroecology
Chaired By: Patrick Mulvany, Senior Policy Adviser, Practical Action / Chair, the UK Food Group
Speakers: Julia Wright, Deputy Director, Centre for Agroecology and Food Security, Coventry University
Geoff Tansey, writer and consultant
Michel Pimbert, Principal Researcher and Team Leader (Food and Agriculture),
International Institute for Environment and Development.
While “local food webs”, many of them ecological, will continue to feed most people in the world, “top-level” processes will grab the headlines. Some will culminate in 2012, including the UN Rio+20 conference and the launch of the ‘Green Economy’. Other UN processes, on the governance of food, biodiversity and climate change will continue to seek sustainable outcomes. In Europe, CAP reforms will be a hot topic. The UK will stage a global scientific event “Planet under Pressure”* which will discuss solutions, at all scales, to move societies on to a sustainable pathway, providing scientific leadership towards Rio+20. In this context, this session will focus on how to change mindsets towards the benefits of ecological and equitable models of sustainable food production and consumption in the UK, Europe and Internationally.
*Planet Under Pressure, global conference, London 26-29 March 2012, see:
March 26-29 London
What can the UK contribute to global food security?
Chaired By: Tony Juniper sustainability and environmental adviser
Speakers: Prof Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy,
Centre for Food Policy, School of Health Sciences, City University London.
Christopher Stopes, Director, EcoS Consultancy / President, IFOAM EU Group
Skills-intensive, mixed, integrated, and low-input agriculture demonstrably produces the most good food, most sustainably. What can and should the UK do to develop such farming and promote it throughout the world?
For more information onThe Campaign for Real Farming, visit: