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Oxford farming conferences: Time to prioritise nature alongside food

Oxford farming conferences: Time to prioritise nature alongside food

Every year the Soil Association kicks off the New Year at the Oxford Farming Conference and the Oxford Real Farming Conference and 2024 is no exception, with experts from the charity and Soil Association Certification offering their expertise to delegates at both events.

Held at the same time in early January, both conferences aim to bring together the farming sector to discuss and debate key issues.

This year, alongside The Wildlife Trusts, we are inviting delegates from both Oxford farming conferences to debate whether it’s time to put the food versus nature dispute to bed.

On Wednesday 3 January, the eve of both conferences, the “Wild LIVE” debate will be discussing what barriers remain to achieving a food system with nature at its core.

It will look to build on the Consensus on Food, Farming and Nature – a vision for nature-friendly food production set out by farming and environment groups that was agreed at year ago at the 2023 conferences.

Chaired by The Wildlife Trusts Chief Executive Craig Bennett, the session will be led by a panel of author and farmer Sarah Langford, Vice Chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network James Robinson, Marks and Spencer Head of Sustainability Lucinda Langton, and Steve Proud, Land Management Director at Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust.

The “Wild LIVE: Is it time to put the food vs. nature debate to bed?” event will run from 6 - 7.30pm on Wednesday 3 January at Modern Art Oxford, Pembroke Street, with doors opening at 5pm for networking and drinks.

The Consensus on Food, Farming and Nature will also feature in an Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) session the following day, which will be chaired by Soil Association Head of Farming Policy Gareth Morgan exploring the barriers to achieving the vision in the consensus.

Morgan said: “With government policies moving to incentivise nature-friendly farming and public concern rising about environmental issues, there is widespread agreement that farming needs change to be more sustainable and economically resilient. What we need to work out now is how we get to that end goal, and how we can break down the barriers to achieving it. Everyone across the farming and environmental sectors will need to work together to create a food system that is truly sustainable for people, planet and wildlife, and this debate on the eve of both Oxford conferences is the perfect place to do just that.”

For more information about the debate and to book a place, visit The Wildlife Trusts’ website

Tillage, fertilisers, government farming policy, Asian-Afro Caribbean crops, and farm trials covering net zero, winter grazing and revival of the Scottish flax industry will all feature in Soil Association sessions at ORFC.

For the full conference programme and for more information, visit:



Perennial veg: promise and propagation 

11am-12.30pm – Oxford Town Hall, Assembly Room

Hear from Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson on what’s caught his attention about the potential of perennials, expert perennial grower and founder of Incredible Vegetables, Mandy Barber, and get a debrief on micropropagation as a possible means to increase production from Tom Hartley from Soil Association Certification.

Media storytelling for food systems change

4-5.30pm – St Aldates Tavern, the Blue Room

Hear from seasoned journalists, the Innovative Farmers network, and producers on how a good story builds connection and mobilises the democratic voice of farmers, growers, and landworkers. Speakers with expertise in podcasting, broadcast journalism and magazine publishing will share their success stories of how they overcame obstacles and built inspiring stories that brought alternative farming practices to a wider audience. The panel discussion will be followed by an interactive workshop.

Joining forces to shift the narrative for food and farming

4-5.30pm – Cheng Building, Digital Hub

Soil Association Head of Policy Gareth Morgan will chair a session on what more is needed to shift the narrative around agroecology, and support truly transformative change in our food and farming systems. Using the Consensus on Food, Farming and Nature as an example, this session will explore the opportunities for building momentum within the agroecological movement, and identify the more fundamental changes that still need to happen. Panellists will examine the barriers to agroecology being embraced by a much wider range of organisations and interests.


Managing reduced tillage in horticulture 

9-10.30am – Oxford Town Hall, Council Chamber 

Soil Association Horticulture Advisor Carolyn Coxe will chair a session looking at the rise in popularity of no-till alongside the struggle for growers to adopt the practice and remain chemical-free. The session will hear from growers who are trialling nature-friendly techniques to solve this issue. It will cover how, through the Innovative Farmers network, growers are pioneering new machinery and strip till techniques to find ways of maximising the benefits to soil health.

Growing without borders: launching an Asian-Afro Caribbean crops network 

11am-12.30pm – Oxford Town Hall, Assembly Room

Growing and Sharing Without Borders is a project in partnership with Kushinga Community Garden about growing Afro-Caribbean veg in gardens. Building on an existing collaboration between Food for Life, My Food Community and Back to Our Roots, it launched in March 2023 aiming to upskill people in the community interested in growing any veg, but with an interest in Asian-Afro-Caribbean crops. Join innovative chefs and growers, including Soil Association horticulture advisor Hugh Blogg, for the discussion.

Rediscovering the flax fibre industry in Scotland 

11am-12.30pm – Parish Centre, Conference Room

The Scottish flax fibre industry was a victim of globalisation in the 19th century. Flax once flourished in the damp soils, but its seeds and supply chain have been lost. Join this session to hear from farmers, researchers, and citizens, who have teamed up via the Innovative Farmers programme on a mission to find out which modern flax varieties can be scaled up across the country. But this research is more than just a field trial. Come along to hear about the shared dream of reseeding local and sustainable cloth production in Scotland, and to join the discussion about how you can get involved in developing a UK regenerative textile supply chain.

Capturing carbon: joining the dots between policy and practice

11am-12.30pm – Cheng Building, Digital Hub 

The Climate Change Committee has been clear that carbon dioxide removal will be key to reaching net zero. Join the RSPB, Soil Association, Green Alliance, and Farm Carbon Toolkit to look at how the way we approach this will have significant implications for our society – including for farmers, who are fundamentally important in helping to achieve our climate targets. This session’s experts will cover carbon removal options, covering unbiased information about both the challenges and opportunities these present. They’ll also explore the wider policy context and untangle the question of how these approaches can be reconciled with a transition to agroecology.

The Welsh policy perspective on transforming our food systems

11am-12.30pm – Cheng Building, Seminar Room

Soil Association Head of Policy Cymru Andrew Tuddenham will be speaking on the panel about how food is a basic need, but seldom a basic policy area. The session will explore how drawing on agroecology for cohesive national food strategies can provide benefits across all these sectors: supporting public health, environmental sustainability, economic stability, social cohesion, and national security and sovereignty.

What next for GMOs in UK supply chains?

1-1.45pm – The Blue Room, St. Aldate’s Tavern

The organic sector have particular concerns as organic standards specifically prohibit the use of GMOs in organic farming and foods, and this includes ‘Precision Bred Organisms’. Key players join our panel and Q&A session to share the latest information and offer support for responding to the Food Standards Agency’s ‘precision breeding’ consultation.

Bale grazing as an effective livestock outwintering strategy 

2-3.30pm – Oxford Town Hall, Assembly Room

Members of the Pasture for Life-led, four-year, Innovative Farmers field lab on bale grazing will come together to share their insights into this outwintering strategy, including costs, benefits, impacts, and lessons learned after several years of testing the approach. The session will provide in depth information on the subject for any farmer trialling or interested in this approach.

Fertilisers in the Landscape 

2-3.30pm – Oxford Town Hall, Council Chamber

Soil Association Farming Advisor Jerry Alford will chair a discussion on using a whole-landscape approach to soil fertility. The session will cover how harnessing the relationships and interactions between trees and crops can help manage organic nitrogen more efficiently, while also supporting biodiversity.

It takes a farm community to be net zero: a case study from Cornwall

2-3.30pm – Oxford Town Hall St Aldate’s Room

This session focuses on the innovations of three farmers as part of a 43-strong community in Cornwall funded by the Climate Action Fund, part of the National Lottery Community Fund and supported by Innovative Farmers. The Farm Net Zero project is driven by farmers to improve farm resilience by reducing emissions from feed, fuel, and fertiliser, but at the same time increase soil health and ecosystem services. The speakers are part of an extensive range of farmer-led field walks, events and on-farm trials which drive community learning. This session will have a 20-minute commissioned film which focuses on farm communities