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    Reflections on #OFC23 - students, staff and alumni on this year's Oxford Farming Conference

    10 January 2023

    The return of the Oxford Farming Conference as an in-person event was hugely welcomed by our students, staff and alumni.

    We caught up with four of this year’s attendees, BSc (Hons) Agriculture student and McDonald’s Scholar Mary Brookes, Harper Adams Masters student Faith Mohammed and alumnus Hakeem Ojo – who attended as Breaking Barriers Scholars – and Senior Engagement Fellow Kit Franklin, who took part in a keynote debate on on-farm automation.

    Here are their reflections on the event.


    Hakeem Ojo


    What was the conference like?

    The Oxford farming conference was a mixture of industry excellence and a networking hub.

    I was privileged to meet important industry stakeholders, top research academics, and seasoned speakers. The theme of sustainability and technology was well painted and the importance of these topics in the future of farming and food, in general, was examined from different angles with different opinions, giving it an open perspective.

    What was the most interesting session or debate you attended?

    That would have to be the debate at the Oxford Union - “This house believes that humans will not be needed on farms in a generation”, Simon Pearson and Kit Franklin proposed, centring their debate on efficiency, waste minimization, and sustainability techniques from robotics in the food space, while David Rose and Ben Taylor Davies opposed and focused on the importance of the rural community, togetherness and the need to preserve our knowledge, culture, and values in the agricultural space.

    What would you say to someone considering applying to the Breaking Barriers Scholarship?

    Definitely go for it. No matter your level of experience or exposure in the industry. There is something for everyone at the conference.

    I have gained new networks that I would not have easy access to in the real world. Next year’s theme is one to get even more excited about, Diversity and Inclusion, this talks about us, our experiences, and realities in the industry and we should be at the forefront. Definitely go for it!


    Kit Franklin

    What were you speaking on at the Conference, and how did the invite come about?

    I was speaking FOR the motion “This house believes that humans will not be needed on farms in a generation” in the prestigious OFC Union Debate.

    I had to prepare a speech and talk for eight minutes on the motion - in hopefully an entertaining and informative way - to try and win the vote of the audience.

    Ben Taylor-Davies on of the OFC Directors got in contact with me for the debate due to my work on autonomous farming with the Hands Free Hectare and Farm.

    The debate also included Professor Simon Pearson speaking for the motion as well as David Rose and Ben Taylor-Davies speaking against the motion.

    How was your speech received?

    I had lots of great feedback and positive comments after the debate on my speech but maybe unsurprisingly a room of farmers voted in majority against the motion!

    What was it like getting back to the Conference in person?

    The Oxford Farming Conference is always a fantastic start to the year, filled with positivity and inspiration but after two years online it was extra special to be back in person this year - which also marked five years since I first attended and presented on the Hands Free Hectare back in 2018.


    Faith Mohammed

    What was the conference like? 

    The conference was inspiring, enlightening, and eye-opening. The discussion covered all fields required in 'farming a new future', including the reality and solutions to current agricultural challenges, and there was a lot of networking. 


    What was the most interesting session or debate you attended? 

    The entire conference, from beginning to end, is filled with engaging sessions, but here are the sessions that I particularly enjoyed:

    The Scholars Leadership Training- sponsored by McDonald's UK and Ireland, OFC 2023 Report Launch and Chair's Welcome Event on the first day.

    The future of Sustainable Trade (by Jason Hafemeister), GrowUp Farms Breakfast Event, The Well-being of the Future Generations Act (by Jane Davidson), Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, Princess Anne's address, Farming Innovations (by Sally-Ann Spence, Jacquie McGlade, Abi Reader and Kate Hofman), The OFC Oxford Union Debate and McDonald's Scholars Celebration Dinner on the second day.

    Inspiring Farmers (by Mary Quicke, Chris Jones, Salih Hodzhov), Disrupting Global Food Politics (by Danielle Nierenberg), Succeeding After Adversity by Samantha Kinghorn MBE, and The Scholar's Event sponsored by McDonald's UK and Ireland on the third day.

    These sessions were educative and motivating, and the speakers were excellent. 


    What would you say to someone considering applying to the Breaking Barriers Scholarship? 

    The Breaking Barriers Scholarship provides a platform for a passionate young person interested in agriculture to gain insights into British agriculture, acquire resources, develop leadership, communication, and social media skills, and network with brilliant minds in the industry.

    I encourage you to apply if you genuinely want to be exceptional in the agricultural sector. 


    Mary Brookes

    Have you been to the Oxford Farming Conference before, and what was this year’s conference like?

    Having not attended the conference before, it was a truly valuable opportunity to broaden my knowledge on current and innovative industry movements, alongside providing the chance to meet many knowledgeable people from across the sector.

    Throughout the three-day conference there were a variety of speakers covering different topics on key concerns and opportunities within the agricultural industry, from sustainable supply chain synergies to the long-term adoption of robotic farming methods, with the theme of the conference this year being ‘farming a new future.’


    What would you say to a fellow student thinking of attending in 2024?

    If you get the opportunity to attend the Oxford Farming Conference, then definitely go and make the most of it!

    The conference is extremely rewarding to gain an insight into what the future of agricultural industry may look like and gives you ways in which you can change your opinions and actions going forward into an agricultural career.



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