Lessons from ORFC are part of my journey – Amelia Preston

Amelia PrestonIn this blog post, Amelia Preston, recipient of a Future Farmers bursary to attend the 2021 Oxford Real Farming Conference, explains her learning journey and reports back from the ORFC as it went online to a global audience.

Leaving my Yorkshire comfort zone to study a degree in Agriculture has been my best decision yet.

As I set my course for a career in an industry I hold dear, a year spent studying at Harper Adams University in Shropshire broadened my circle of friends and encouraged me to investigate farming practices beyond what the neighbours were doing.

I transferred to Askham Bryan College in York for the second and third years of the course and worked on a local dairy farm to expand my practical knowledge and skillset. Consequently, my dissertation considered the effect of milk supplementation on piglet growth in the farrowing crate.

I discovered a noticeable growth gain in piglets from gilts, which equated to reducing the finishing period by seven days. This has helped me to appreciate the importance of production efficiency in increasing farm profitability and sustainability – increasingly crucial factors as the Government’s Environmental Land Management Scheme, which includes a ‘sustainable farming incentive’, is phased in.

My next chapter

I’m keen to continue learning and so I applied to study a distance-based Master’s degree in Sustainable Food and Agriculture Policy at the Royal Agricultural University and have been lucky enough to be granted an NFU centenary award to cover most of the course fees.

I hope to understand farm sustainability in the context of the future UK agri-food policy environment so I can offer the very best advice to farmers and land managers in my new role as Technical Rural Assistant with East Yorkshire property agents Dee Atkinson & Harrison’s Rural Team.

Role of Future Farmers

Throughout my studies and early career, I’ve been involved with the Future Farmers of Yorkshire and Women In Farming, two groups backed by the Yorkshire Agriculture Society to support farmers and other rural industry professionals.

Last spring, I attended a Future Farmers meeting where the Oxford Farming Conference vs Oxford Real Farming Conference – two prestigious events in the farming calendar – was debated. Delegates demonstrated a great understanding of the wider factors affecting UK farming and so when Future Farmers advertised bursary places for the next conference dates, I didn’t hesitate to apply.

Notes from ORFC

The virtual Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) took place between January 7th-13th and was easy to tune into. It ran from noon-10pm each day, with the sessions recorded so you could catch up on anything you missed.

While it was a shame to miss the conference’s atmosphere, being held online, it opened the floor to a greater range of speakers and a wider response to the proposed topics.

It’s great to challenge yourself, to look at farming from a different perspective and in one discussion it was highlighted how, to many, agriculture is life.

Through agriculture we celebrate food, community, provenance and the production system, something which we have been reminded of during the pandemic, with a sharp increase in food bank usage alongside a boost in community spirit.

I found ‘the importance of food networks’ to be a particularly engaging topic, encouraging individuals supporting local producers and farmgate sales to become a food citizen rather than simply a consumer.

Professionally, beneficial topics included: increasing cropping biodiversity, woodland grazing pasture, international hedgerows, beaver dam reservoirs in reducing flooding impact, increasing soil carbon sequestration and improving water holding capacity.

My key take-home-message from ORFC is this: we need to keep learning and challenging ourselves to continue progressing UK agriculture.

  • Future Farmers of Yorkshire was launched in 2010 to bring together like-minded farmers, vets and industry professionals. It is supported by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society. To join Future Farmers just email futurefarmers@yas.co.uk or DM via Twitter @FutureFarmerYAS

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