Politicians battle it out at Oxford Farming Conference today

Environment secretary Elizabeth Truss. Picture: Ian Burt

Environment secretary Elizabeth Truss. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

Politicians battled it out at the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) in a pre-election skirmish today, while students will be deciding whether intensive farming is sustainable tonight.

Environment Secretary Liz Truss was joined by Shadow Minister Huw Irranca Davies, Stuart Agnew from UKIP and Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment.

To coincide with the event, the OFC launched a report, The Best British Farmers: What gives them the edge?

It was welcomed by National Farmers’ Union president Meurig Raymond, who said: “The report correctly raises concern over UK farmers’ competitiveness and rightly concludes that more investment in British agriculture by way of applied research and a greater emphasis on the sharing of knowledge within our industry is a key priority.”

The conference includes a keynote address from Lord John Krebs, principal of Jesus College, Oxford, entitled Climate change – challenge or opportunity.

Tomorrow, George Monbiot, a columnist for The Guardian and critic of intensive farming, will put his case, while David Caffall of the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) who will defend best practice in commercial farming as pressure increases from single issue policy makers and campaigners and Apollo Onyango from Kenya, a horticulturalist already adopting pest control techniques in preparation for a reduced chemical armoury, will give a farmer’s perspective on biodiversity.

On the technology side, Dr Edmond Harty from Dairymaster will give an insight into technology-led dairy equipment. He will be joined by Kevin Frediani a vertical farming pioneer, David Nelson an advocate of precision farming from Iowa and Professor James Bullock from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

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Tonight, the Oxford Union debate will pose the motion: “This house believes that intensive agriculture is no longer sustainable”. Proposing the motion is Philip Lymbery, chief executive of Compassion in World Farming and co-author of Farmageddon and his motion will be opposed by Caroline Drummond, chief executive of Linking the Environment And Farming (LEAF).