One of the most engaging sessions at this year’s influential Oxford Farming Conference saw one of the industry’s most vociferous opponents, George Monbiot, slam the ‘hypocrisy’ of modern farming, in a session ably chaired by Farmers Club member Andrew Brown.
I really wanted to emphasise the OFC’s Challenge, Inform, Inspire strap line, so I lined up a session including well know critic and Guardian columnist George Monbiot, David Caffall of the Agricultural Industries Confederation and Louise Labuschagne, who promotes novel approaches to pest control in Kenya, he writes.
Louise was first to take to the stage and delivered a fascinating paper on integrated pest management and bio-control techniques used in high value vegetable crops for export. The methods could be used on widely grown UK crops too. So her plea was that we become more receptive and open the “sodding” gate to this type of technology.
Next was George Monbiot, who delivered a typically provocative paper, without notes or slides, in a very eloquent manner. He is one of the best speakers I have ever heard. He started by thanking delegates for leaving their shotguns at home, and then went on to outline the very unfair way benefits are being cut to the poorest in society, whilst large land owners receive millions from the EU just for having the land.
David Caffall followed with the industry perspective, and how the loss of pesticide active ingredients will have a devastating effect on the agricultural economy if we let the trend continue.
The Q&A session was lively, with a clearly furious NFU Deputy President Minette Batters rounding on George Monbiot. The master stroke was when Louise Labuschagne went behind George and David as they argued about pesticides, put her arms around them and said ‘we can work this out boys’. Her paper on bio-control sparked considerable media interest and it can only be a matter of time before we start using such techniques here.
I feel we must engage more with our critics and instead of treating them with suspicion we need to invite them to speak to us, so we can argue our case. Many delegates will have gone home from Oxford with Mr Monbiot’s words ringing in their ears. Some may even have been swayed by his arguments.
We ignore those who are critical of us at our peril and the old saying of ‘keep your friends close but your enemies closer’ has never been more relevant. Minds, like parachutes, only work when they are open.
For those who think they may one day like to be an OFC Director, I would have no hesitation in recommending the experience. Like me you will have a wonderful time.