Farming Matters: The changing face of farms

Heather Jan Brunt's weekly column Farming Matters
Heather Jan Brunt's weekly column Farming Matters

Where are the opportunities in agriculture, how can they be funded and how should farms operate in the future?

These were the big questions that topped the agenda at the 2014 Oxford Farming Conference held at the Oxford University examination schools this week.

The annual three-day meeting started on Monday and ends today (Wednesday).

The line-up of speakers included NFU president Peter Kendall, who steps down next month after eight years as head of the country’s biggest farming union, European commissioner Dacian Ciolos and Secretary of State Owen Paterson.

The conference co-chairman Adrian Ivory said the debate on the future of the industry would be driven by research which investigated the structure, processes and relationships needed to establish a truly competitive UK agricultural sector beyond the next decade.

He said: “The research report we commissioned is likely to be controversial, because it highlights the need for changes to how farms are operated and funded, some of which will be unpalatable to those who prefer working within the status quo.”

Traditionally not regarded as the most sociable creatures, farmers at the conference were told that embracing social media could change the way they do business. They were also encouraged to consider the benefits of rural tourism, and heard a debate about dairy farming from a young person’s perspective.

Other items on the agenda included a debate on green energy and a vision of farming with robots in 2050.