Sustainability for the farming sector will under discussion at this year's virtual Oxford Farming Conference

The need to embrace more sustainable methods of farming will be highlighted tomorrow at one of the country’s leading agricultural conferences.

For the first time in its 75 year history, the Oxford Farming Conference is taking place online.

Two of the keynote speakers at the Oxford Farming Conference, Professor Tim Benton, who is giving the science lecture, and John Elkington, who is staging the Frank Parkinson Lecture, will look at sustainable farming from different viewpoints.

Prof Benton, who leads the energy, environment and resources programme at the international affairs think tank, Chatham House, said the industry was facing major uncertainty from a series of factors.

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“We have post-Brexit, Covid and the long-term implications of the new agricultural policy,” he said. “The only certainty is that the future is uncertain. The world is changing faster than ever before and who knows what it will look like in 10 years’ time.”

Prof Benton, who is speaking at the OFC for the first time, will be hosting the lecture, People, Planet, Prosperity – Getting our Food Systems Right, and he said it was important the world finds a way to make farming sustainable for the future.

“The system needs to change but how and what will drive that change?

How do you build a resilient farming economy not just keep doing the same things we have always done?

“Our direction of travel for the past 30 years is not going to be sustainable, we need to deal with the environment, climate change, biodiversity, water quality and air quality.

“I think we can look at Covid as an exemplar of the world biting back and is almost certainly a result of climate change and the damage done to the eco-system and bio-diversity.

“I dearly hope we find a lever for change which helps farming in a sustainable way,” he said.

In his lecture, Mr Elkington will be giving an insight into how corporate companies and supply chains are responding to global sustainability challenges, but argues that current practice does not go “nearly far enough”.

Mr Elkington will explain to delegates how the coming boom in so-called regenerative capitalism is changing corporate mindsets, with big implications for how food is produced and consumed in the UK.

Prof Benton said he was looking forward to a day of interesting discussions as well as delivering his own session.

“I think it will be a really good day,” he said.

The theme of this year’s event is Business as Unusual, which organisers said “could not come at a more important time” following the UK’s departure from the EU and the ongoing pandemic.

The new agricultural policies farmers across the UK will be working with are under discussion during the first session of the day which features Ministers from each of the devolved nations, including Environment Minister George Eustice.

A preview of the official findings by the new Trade and Agriculture Commission, ahead of its official launch next month, will be included in the Trade session which will see industry experts looking at the disruptions currently impacting on the sector and the ongoing issue of mental health support will also be in the spotlight.

Organisers have also decided to keep ticket sales open until 9am tomorrow.