The view from the ORFC is looking good

This year’s ORFC was as brilliant as ever, with participants leaving encouraged and refreshed, and with confidence that the path of regenerative farming is the right one.

Eight hundred and fifty people (there were 100 on a waiting list) enjoyed a choice of 56 different sessions. There was also a plethora of fringe events and meet-ups that happened over the two days – including a joint cheese tasting (some made with milk from cows fed no grains) with delegates from the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) on the evening before the two conferences began.

The Pasture-Fed Livestock Association (PFLA) was responsible for planning the ‘Farm Practice’ thread of talks. There were nine sessions with 32 speakers, 27 of whom were farmers.

Their talks were on topics that PFLA members had asked for in a survey back in the summer. They were discussing subjects that really mattered to them and that they wanted to hear.

Speakers included Scottish beef and poultry farmer Andrew Brewster and once-a-day milking dairy pioneer Jonny Rider, who talked about ways to handle cattle with the minimum of stress.

Nuffield scholars Tim May and David Walston told delegates about the miraculous improvement to their soils, after introducing cattle and sheep into their arable rotations.

Cornish beef producer Chris Jones described how herbal leys and mob grazing cattle is building soil organic matter up significantly on his all grass farm.

Malham Cove livestock farmer Neil Heseltine astounded the audience when he revealed that by cutting sheep numbers from 400 to 200, and allowing them to exert their own behaviour without eating any grain, he made £17,779 contribution to his drawings as opposed to just £478 before.

Wildlife photographer and certified beef farmer Ian Boyd gave a beautiful presentation of the biodiversity on his farm, now he has moved away from conventional methods to a low cost, ‘Pasture for Life’ mixed farming system.

Under the title ‘Real Food for Real Farmers”, water buffalo farmer Dagan James described that he had encouraged local people to visit the farm and that the buffalo had captured their imagination. But keeping customers coming back has been hard work, needing good communication skills and large social events with music and food and other activities. People have become the ‘cash crop’, he said.

Jonathan Chapman has built a herd of Red Devon cattle at his farm just outside the M25 in Buckinghamshire. But selling into traditional wholesale markets left not enough profit.

Direct selling could return £38,300 more profit on 50 beasts sold a year. However, selling to consumers requires a new skill set of PR and marketing and greater time to manage supply and demand. But sales are going well and the aim is to install a mobile cutting room next year, so he can cut to specific customer requirements.

Richard Young and Durwin Banks gave a fascinating talk to a crowded room on Understanding Fats, reminding us of the advice given several decades ago that we should forgo animal fats and focus on vegetable oils, with the tragic results for humanity’s health and environment.  We now have the opportunity not only to provide valuable animal fats but also to reawaken interest in them. You can watch their talks here and here and Richard’s slides are here.

Pasture for Life milk

Closing the conference, PFLA chairman John Meadley first reminded the 800 or more delegates that the PFLA had delivered on a promise made at last year’s event – that there would be ‘Pasture for Life’ milk at this year’s conference.

Thanks to members Peter and Mary Fish of Challon’s Combe Dairy near Kingsbridge, Devon, and PFLA Dairy Manager Sophia Morgan-Swinhoe – who went through ‘hell and high water’ to collect and deliver it, – all the milk at coffee time was certified ‘Pasture for Life’ – and everyone could taste the difference!

John then reiterated that ‘Pasture for Life’ farming can be done and more farmers are proving this by doing it.

“At the next conference we shall publish an update to the ‘It can be Done’ costings booklet to show that it is an economically viable way of farming. We shall also be launching ‘How it is done’ – which will be a way of sharing the wealth of pasture farming knowledge there is within the membership.”

Poems to end

At the very end of the proceedings, the Pasture for Life poet in residence, Adam Horovitz read two poems he had penned while attending the conference – picking up on the people, topics and comments he saw and heard over the two days.

He read them so beautifully, and every one of the 800 people there, listened intently, inspired by the clarity of the content and the sound of his words. A fantastic way to round off a terrific two days!

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