National Federation of Young Farmers' Clubs

Fun, Learning, and Achievement

26 January 2021

Technology and innovation were key themes of the Oxford Farming Conference this year and three YFC members experienced the event in its first ever online format.

Jack Seigneury from Lincolnshire FYFC, Jessica Spencer from Nottinghamshire FYFC and NFYFC’s Vice Chairman Ed Dungait from Northumberland FYFC logged on to the one-day virtual conference in January after being awarded an NFYFC Scholarship by the Worshipful Company of Farmers.

The event, called Business as Unusual, was held just seven days after the UK left the EU and amid the pandemic. The online conference platform allowed delegates to meet on virtual tables, change floors taking the elevator and pop up on ‘stage’ to ask the speaker a question.

The three YFC members also enjoyed a training day, organised by McDonald’s and McCain who highlighted the importance of high quality, high welfare, British produce.

Ed, who found the training day useful, said: “The workshop made me realise how often unconscious bias affects the decisions I and others make. There are so many barriers to diversity in the rural landscape and we discussed ways to break these. It has probably improved my character as a result, and I endeavour to continue using the skills and mindset that I have learnt.”

Ed also attended all of the sessions at the OFC event, including listening to a presentation from the Environment Secretary George Eustice who spoke about how gene editing creates the potential to protect the nation’s environment, pollinators and wildlife.

Other sessions included discussions on traceability apps, a science lecture by Research Director at Chatham House Tim Benton on growing the right types of food to feed a population and an emotive session about mental health in agriculture. But it was a talk by sustainability expert John Elkington, that captured Ed’s attention the most.

“He [Elkington] explained that ideas we find extraordinary and ridiculous now will become the norm much sooner than we imagine. The example of carriage drivers being enraged by the invention of umbrellas was worth remembering,” said Ed.

“There was a good explanation of how the human brain is great at imagining incremental changes but terrible at imagining exponential ones. I think that this may be a hindrance to the farming industry in particular, as we are comparatively slow to embrace new technology. Modern advances included renewable energy, vertical farming and fake meat. He also highlighted the great threat to the livestock industry that will come from improved fermented meat production.”

The three scholars also had a chance to meet with HRH The Princess Royal where they discussed YFC, farming topics and issues affecting young people from rural communities.

“It was good to hear the Princess Royal’s interest in YFC and her concerns for members who have struggled to get online during lockdown. I was able to talk about the impact this lack of connectivity had made on people and what NFYFC was doing to promote this issue,” said Ed.

The day was packed with content and learning, with lots for the three scholars to take away and think about. Hearing about the passion for the sector was encouraging for Ed who felt it had helped shift his mindset from largely concentrating on the financial returns of his venture.

One of the most enlightening parts of the conference for Ed was a group discussion on how the industry could recruit and retain quality talent from multi-disciplinary backgrounds.

“When asked how I would go about recruiting a new member of staff, I explained it would be through word of mouth or possibly an advert on my Facebook account,” admitted Ed. “I realised that I am part of the problem in terms of lack of diversity in agriculture – I’m not giving people a chance from another disciplinary background. It was good to discuss different recruitment strategies.”

Every year the Worshipful Company of Farmers sponsors YFC members to attend the conference and any YFC member can apply for these places.

For more information about future scholarship opportunities at the Oxford Farming Conference, contact Sarah Palmer.  



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