Harper Adams University: Oxford Farming Conference 2022 successes marked by students and alumni

A successful Oxford Faming Conference has proved to be a hit with Harper Adams students – and a rewarding challenge for one of the University’s alumni.

The conference – held each January – draws together farmers, industry, experts and more, including academics and students from Harper Adams, for a series of seminars and events surrounding all aspects of agriculture and food production.

Student Union President Emily Brown and current students Tim Davidson and Jessie Mayall were all chosen to attend this year’s conference, with their attendance supported through the 2022 Oxford Farming Conference Scholar’s programme.

Meanwhile Harper Adams alumna, Emily Norton – who works as Head of Rural Research, Rural, Energy and Projects for Savills – served on this year’s Oxford Farming Council – helping to bring the conference together and facing a series of challenges to ensure a successful event.

Tim – a BSc (Hons) Agriculture Student, from Kilrea in County Londonderry – said: “The conference was brilliant, despite having to change to an online format at the last minute. It was a great opportunity to virtually meet and hear the views of industry leaders from all aspects of agriculture and food production.

“Throughout the three days I listened to many influential speakers that have an incredibly contagious passion for British agriculture.

“The Inspiring Farmers session was one I enjoyed the most, as the name suggests we heard very personal stories from how four different farmers got into agriculture and their highs and lows throughout. I found Simon Best, a fellow Northern Irish man, especially interesting as he explained his transfer from international rugby back to his home farm.”

And Shrewsbury native Jessie – who studies BSc Hons Agriculture with Crop Management – added: “I particularly appreciated having the opportunity to hear directly from agricultural ministers on brand new policy announcements and how they see the future of UK food and agriculture.

“It was encouraging that environmental protection and sustainability were very much at the heart of most of the discussions. One of the highlights for me was hearing Dame Ellen MacArthur speak on the concept of the ‘circular economy’, which allowed me to appreciate the role that food and agriculture might have in a truly circular, sustainable economy.”

Her reflections on the importance of sustainability and its role at the heart of the conference were echoed by Tim, who added: “I will be taking away a new knowledge regarding the importance of creating a baseline of our farms’ natural capital, this means the soil health, habitats and biodiversity of the land we manage. It is essential that farming practices adapt to not hinder these areas but to reinstate them to much better condition.

“This will be a great asset as farmers strive towards the target of net zero and as HRH The Princess Royal said, we must ensure that farms use their own sequestered carbon to offset their emissions before considering trading their carbon credits.”

While students like Tim and Jessie were enjoying the conference from the floor, Harper Adams alumnus Emily Norton and her Council colleagues were working to ensure the event ran smoothly – despite the Omicron variant enforcing a change of plans as they reacted to a changing public health picture.

Emily, who studied for a Masters in Sustainable Agriculture at Harper Adams, explained: “The decision to switch to fully digital was as much deeply painful as it was well prepared. We know that Oxford is not at its best when it’s in ‘broadcast mode’ – the real value is in getting people together to have conversations and to learn from each other.

“But equally, with all of the covid news, we had already planned for a lot of digital content, with overseas presenters attending virtually.

“In the end, we were thrilled with the overwhelmingly positive feedback, and can’t wait to be able to deliver content – and experience together – again.”

That in-person experience is something which Jessie – who is looking forward to securing a ticket for next year’s conference already – is also hoping to enjoy.

She added: “Overall, taking part in the OFC 2022 scholar’s programme was a very positive and valuable experience and I am very grateful to Harper Adams and the OFC for this opportunity.

“I was glad that despite the conference cancelling the in-person event, I was still able to attend the full programme, albeit through a computer screen rather than in person.

“I look forward to – hopefully – attending the conference in Oxford in 2023!”

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