Delegates to this year’s Oxford Farming Conference — the annual conference for Britain’s farming elite — were greeted by about 50 members and supporters of the Landworkers’ Alliance (LWA), as they entered the venue on January 7.
The theme of this year’s conference was “opportunity agriculture”, the main feature of which was “a shift away from family partnerships or sole traders”, towards “more limited companies” and “an increase in the number of external investors”. The organizers and delegates were either unaware or unconcerned that 2014 is the UN Year of the Family Farm.
The LWA protesters were attending the Oxford Real Farming Conference which takes place just down the road. Like the Edinburgh fringe, this ”other” conference is getting to be bigger than the official one. Both hosted 450 delegates, but the small farmers’ alternative provided 100 speakers at a cost of just £20 per delegate, whereas the mainstream event fielded only 25 speakers at a cost per delegate of £350, — even though it was sponsored by 30 companies including Syngenta, Barclays, BASF, and MacDonalds. For an industry that is constantly trumpeting its own efficiency, this was a strikingly inefficient use of funds.
The Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, was invited to both events, but of course he only attended the industrial farmers’ show. At his press conference, The Land put it to him that by attending only one event, he was supporting one sector of the UK farming industry and ignoring another. His response was: “I’m listening to all parts of the farming industry, I refute that. Next question.”
Video interview from the protest can be found here:
and more coverage here: