Following on from Jenny Phelps recent blog reflecting on the Oxford Real Farming Conference I was also fortunate to be able to attend. It is an inspiring and positive start to the year. If you were unable to attend you can get a flavour for the conference now as recordings from some of the seminars have now been published.

ORFC 2020 filmed talks online HERE and audio available HERE

Some of my personal highlights were:

The future of grain, looking at the work Jon Letts observations of “land races” of wheat whilst working as an agricultural archaeologist in the middle east. These land races are thought to have been in cultivation for 10,000 years, containing thousands of varieties within a single field. He has developed his own multiple strain mixes which can out compete elite wheat varieties in low input systems and are much more resilient to conventional weed species because they are larger more competitive plants then elite varieties. The session also looked at the work of NIAB in developing genetic diversity within wheat through recreating the original crossing of emmer wheat and goat grass.

Reducing antibiotic use on farms hosted by innovative farmers the session explored measures to reduce antibiotic even further than the significant reductions of over 50% that have been achieved in recent years to achieve the 80% reduction target by 2050. Presentations from @wictonfarm and their zero antibiotic policy on a 8,000 litre average organic dairy farm, and the Gerorge Vet Group on the steps needed to reduce antibiotic use through high welfare leading to better health and lower antibiotic use tools available from AHDB for sheep, beef and dairy.

A new version of the Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit Carbon Calculator was launched. The new version provides much clearer information on the emissions from your farm but also allows you to explore where your farm is sequestering carbon. It also allows you to test different scenarios to see what impact making changes to your business might have on your footprint and forms a valuable way of benchmarking your business.

Due to my work at the moment including responding to the climate emergencies in Somerset and Devon I focussed a lot of my time on the sessions exploring the route to net zero. The conference reminded me that a blind focus on carbon emissions, which debates are often driven to, will create unintended consequences that will not benefit high welfare in livestock or support a rich natural environment we must be aware of addressing the ecological emergency which is of equal significance alongside carbon and consider what type of food we want to consume, and who produces it.