2024 Oxford Farming Conference headline speakers revealed

2024 Oxford Farming Conference headline speakers revealed

The 2024 Oxford Farming Conference’s headline speakers have been revealed, joining more than 30 speakers attending the event in January next year.

Will Evans, chair of the 2024 Oxford Farming Conference.

Tickets have gone on sale for the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) and a list of headline speakers has been released, including environmentalist and financier Ben Goldsmith; chef, broadcaster and writer Romy Gill MBE; farmer and musician Andy Cato; and chair of Westmorland Limited Sarah Dunning. They join more than 30 speakers who will be attending the event from 3rd to 5th January 2024.

Goldsmith, “a controversial figure” among the rural community for views on subjects such as subsidies and the impact of farmed animals on the environment, will put forward the motion ‘This house believes that farming for food is holding back nature recovery in protected landscapes’ in the conference debate at Oxford Union. Cumbrian hill farmer Will Cockbain will lead the opposition to the motion.

Romy Gill MBE is an Indian chef, broadcaster and food and travel writer. She has appeared on shows such as James Martin’s Saturday Morning, Countryfile, Celebrity MasterChef, The Hairy Bikers’ Comfort Food, with guest slots on Channel 4’s Packed Lunch, Sunday Brunch and BBC’s The One Show.

Andy Cato, co-founder of Wildfarmed, is a mixed arable and livestock farmer. He was awarded the 2020 Laureate Nationale for innovation in agroecology and the Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole for his work in France.

Now back on British soil and farming as a tenant of the National Trust, Andy is on a mission to help farmers move towards soil-focused farming whilst making real food grown in real soil available on the high street at affordable prices.

Diversity is the theme at OFC24

Chair of OFC24, Welsh beef and arable farmer Will Evans said tickets going on sale and the announcement of speakers for the event has “set the countdown clock ticking.”

Evans said: “What the conference does so well is challenge its audiences; putting speakers on stage saying things that we as an industry don’t necessarily want to hear.”

Evans went on to say that he was looking forward to hearing from speaker Sarah Dunning OBE, whose parents launched Tebay Services in 1972 after the M6 motorway was built across their Cumbrian hill farm. It has grown to a nationwide company but remained “true to its agricultural roots” by working with local farmers and producers.

The theme of diversity for the 2024 OFC came to Evans while he was driving his tractor.

“I hope diversity will be a lasting legacy, rather than a theme that is tackled and then forgotten about,” he explained.

“It’s very much my hope that we can go forwards united in making agriculture a destination industry for people from a diversity of backgrounds.

“Of course, agriculture is already full of diversity – in its environment, landscapes and the food it produces – so it’s a much wider theme than just about the people within the industry. I want the whole conference to be a celebration of difference. There are no right or wrong answers; but diversity of opinions that we might not agree with but that are very much worth listening to.”

A variety of speakers from a range of backgrounds

Other keynote speakers will include Caroline van der Plas, the party leader of the Farmer Citizen Movement (BBB, BoerBurgerBeweging) in the Netherlands. BBB won the regional elections in March 2023, becoming the biggest party in the provinces and winning 16 seats in the senate.

Farmer Douglas Wanstall from Kent will shine a light on how he is moving back to the future, reintroducing livestock into his farming business with the overall aim of developing a truly circular agricultural system.

Continuing the theme of succeeding through adversity, speaker Michael Duxbury was the first blind person to go to an agricultural college back in the 1980s. Following a career as a pig and feed specialist, he went on to set up Inclusive Farm in Bedfordshire, a project designed to teach agriculture to other disabled students, whilst also highlighting their abilities to the industry.

Jan McCourt is a farmer, born of Irish parents. In 1997, Jan went from being an investment banker to a full-time farmer and running the farm shop on the family farm and at Borough Market in London.

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