Reflections on the Oxford Farming Conference

DANSKE Bank’s John Henning attended this week’s Oxford Farming Conference and was extremely impressed with the upbeat nature of the views expressed by the many speakers, who contributed to what is now the traditional start to the agricultural year in the UK.

“DEFRA Minister Owen Paterson covered a lot of topics but started out by highlighting the issue of the growing trust that exists between farmers and society as a whole,” John told Farming Life.

“And obviously, this must be built on for the future. Owen Paterson was also keen to highlight the reality that growing food and protecting the environment are not mutually exclusive objectives. I think this is a fundamentally important concept that must be enshrined both at national and EU level during the period ahead.

“A perfect example, which illustrates this point, was the discussion on GM technology. I thought it more than interesting that even those who would be very ‘green’ in outlook are now coming around to the view that the science behind GM is proven and that the technology does have a lot to offer the world moving forward.”

Mr Henning also took reassurance from the speech given by MEP Mairead McGuinness to the effect that a CAP reform deal will be secured at some stage over the next six months.

“It is now evident that both the European Parliament and the Commission are coming closer together in terms of what might make up the core of a CAP deal,” he continued.

“Ireland currently hosts the presidency of the EU and there is now little doubt that Irish Farm Minister Simon Coveney will do everything possible to get a CAP reform package secured before the end of June.”

Mr Henning concluded: “The biggest impression left with me from this year’s conference was the tremendous sense of enthusiasm for the future. Having said that, I am fully aware of the tremendous pressure on farm cash flows at the present time.

“However, as an industry we are sometimes guilty of living from day to day and not taking in the bigger picture. Agriculture needs all of the new ideas and innovation which young people can bring in abundance. Thankfully, our colleges and universities are filled with students with these very qualities. And on that basis, I am more than upbeat regarding the prospects for our largest industry moving forward.”