ORFC 2024 with Harry Mulligan

Insight into Farming’s Challenges and Opportunities at Oxford Conference

In the first week of 2024, I was fortunate to attend the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC), an event that provides a unique insight into the challenges and opportunities farmers and food producers are tackling, but also the options available for society as a whole moving forward.  

Food and farming is at a unique crossroads. On one side, farmers are expected to become leading drivers in the fight against climate change; reducing emissions, improving land ecology and protecting the environment. While on the other side, they must meet the demands of a growing population, in a society experiencing a decrease in the average food expenditure and food price stagnation. It is a near impossible task to find the balance, and it appears to be two incompatible ideas. Having attended ORFC this year however, I disagree. Across the talks I attended, it was clear that sustainable food production that meets the needs of this country is possible. One talk described it as a three-legged stool – each leg representing economics, the environment and society, and the industry can succeed if producers manage all three in balance.  

A key takeaway from the conference was the importance of education. It is far too easy for the hard work and the complexity of the food we buy to be ignored or missed, and the reality for many of us is a quick, seemingly unimportant, scan of a product before deciding on a purchase. Attempting to convey messages of health and nutrition, ecology and climate change on the side of a pack is a losing battle- already we see the complex topic of nutrition boiled down to a traffic light system for consumers. In a further talk I attended during the two days, small-scale producers discussed the benefit of delivering food directly to consumers, where a shorter supply chain allows for topics such seasonality, quality and price to be discussed in unison. This, I believe will provide those sat outside the industry a deeper appreciation of the challenges that stakeholders face, making it harder to simply pin issues like emissions on the farming community.

For my own education, the conference shed a light on the challenges farmers face and the importance for all components of the food industry to work together. By the end, I left daunted by the scale of the challenges that lie ahead, but also amazed at the work we have done so far. I urge those who are looking to make a difference to attend ORFC next year! 

Here is a video summarising my experience: ORFC 2024.