Guy’s news: Anger, hope & Oprah

Every January, two sides of agriculture gather in Oxford; the 82-year-old, mostly male and suit-clad ‘conventional’ Oxford Farming Conference, and the nine-year-old challenger, the Oxford Real Farming Conference, with no suits, fewer landowners, and a broader spread of age, gender and ethnicity. The former is sponsored by banks, chemical manufacturers and accountants and is bashful about anything not justified by profit, while the latter is sponsored by charities, a not-for-profit bank, individuals and, this year, Riverford. It also challenges the dominance of capital over labour, specialisation over diversity, and champions labourers and the landless. The former, with its defence of the privilege of the most privileged, makes me ashamed of my profession. The latter fills me with hope and inspiration that a more equitable way of farming is within grasp; that, to echo Oprah Winfrey, “a new day is on the horizon”.

Despite driving a Land Rover and liking tweed, I have never identified with my more landed farming peers. Too often they are united by a sense of entitlement without acknowledgement of their (often inherited) privilege or the taxpayer’s money that perpetuates it, or the responsibilities that should come with those advantages. I thought I had mellowed in my middle years but the baying
bigotry of this sector of farming makes my blood boil at times. Secretary of State for Defra Michael Gove addressed both conferences and, to my surprise, stated unequivocally that the current £2.5bn payments that are essentially government subsidies for owning land are “unjust” and will stop by 2024. Perhaps more importantly the sold-out ‘real’ conference had twice as many delegates and a long waiting list, with doers outnumbering talkers. There were impassioned, deeply practical talks on everything from soil structure to weeding by laser-armed robot swarms. Inevitably a lot of time was devoted to Brexit, but the prevailing feeling was that this is the chance for a food and farming policy that represents the many over the few, the wildlife we share our countryside with, and future generations. Mercifully my anger seemed to be an anomaly drowned in a sea of hope.

Guy Singh-Watson

24 responses to “Guy’s news: Anger, hope & Oprah

  1. Hurray for the ‘real’ conference!

  2. It does sound as if maybe good sense will prevail.

  3. Michael Gove is fighting the cause. He has made animal husbandry more transparent including slaughter houses.
    His head does seem to be in the right place, we need more to back him and fight the cause of higher standards in animal welfare and farming

  4. I agree with Alison. It is hard to believe in Gove but he is certainly saying the right things at the moment. I just hope he doesn’t get moved on before he can put his views into practice.

  5. Great to hear this Guy!

  6. Thank you Guy. As things change, those farming using subsidised methods will be more open, perhaps, to organic methods. No need to emphasize being oppositional, at all. That would only perpetuate division.

  7. 🙂 thank you Guy for keeping us informed, hope shines eternal, for the love of our planet, the land and all who live upon her,

  8. Thanks for the message of hope! Makes me think of the Buckminster Fuller quote – ‘To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete’.

  9. I keep buying organic, caring about the environment etc.
    I keep living in harmony.
    I keep loving nature.
    I keep sleeping with a peaceful heart.

  10. That is a fascinating insight into the rise and rise of a more thoughtful approach to farming. May it continue to grow.

  11. Izabella Natrins

    Right on the money (excuse the pun) Guy!

    I was fortunate enough to have session accepted for ORFC: Farming, Food and Medicine: A Healthy Menage a Trois? Team Menage – 2 farmers, 2 nutritionists, a doctor and a nutritional chef started a conversation about how our professions need and MUST all work together in service of people AND planet and our 100+ ORFC audience joined in! ORFC rocks and we’ll be back next year! If any of your readers would like to know more about our initiative please email:

    Thank you! 😊

  12. Well done Guy and all the folk at Riverford for all the lovely food at Christmas and of course the eggs.
    The Dean family would like to thank you for not giving up and you bring us hope for all our futures.

  13. Keep up the good work and the great vegetables and fruit. So refreshing to have ‘real’ produce as opposed to neat, matching, clean and often tasteless supermarket food. So glad I found you!

  14. Why isn’t Guy being published in the Guardian along with that other great bringer of truth George Monbiot? The value of his beliefs (and practices!) is self-evident to the open-minded reader. I applaud his attitude on all aspects of commercial husbandry.

  15. Fascinating article! Never mind the BBC’s favourite paper – the Guardian, Guy’s article’s should be published in the people’s favourite paper – The Sun!

  16. Not anger….Righteous Indignation! You have Right on your side. You put people before profit. In the end, that will always win.

  17. A bright light in a naughty world. Let’s hope more farmers follow your route into sustainable farming.

  18. Thanks ,Guy, for putting your head above the parapet and for once again acting as the conscience for people who (like me !!!) try to live to their own ideals but don,t inflict them on others. Your article has inspired me with a belated new year resolution to promote organic farming throughout 2018. Lets all go for it .For 2018 and for our families sustainable futures.

  19. The advantaged advance,
    As they supply the music
    “It’s a fine romance ”

    Gordon Hoyles

  20. Thanks Guy, you really are an inspiration. If only there were more like you! Just love our organic veg boxes too.

  21. Wonderful reading! Gave me goosebumps. Thank you for your work and words and for staying hopeful. Giving up is not an option and together we can all build a brighter future.

  22. Both the conference and the ambitions of the Campaign for Real Farming are really welcome, thanks for this. I want to see both as part of the move towards an approach to education that’s not based on the limitations inherent in the whole ‘disciplinary’ approach of conventional academic education and would really like to know more about the proposed college.

  23. I read with a smile on my face as the words written by Guy “anger,Hope and Oprah” would have over joyed my late father who would have completely agreed with all that was stated especially about land owners. Great to hear so much good work is being acknowledged now and hopefully a sustainable food policy will be in place so all our children and grandchildren can grow up healthy with excellent food production that does not impact on our beautiful world. Glad the anger is being lost as in my humble opinion, anger does not help. Plodding on and doing the right thing is much more effective. You win over more people that way who then listen. Thank you

  24. Hello Guy, I really enjoy your news and although late to respond here do catch up from time to time to read them all. Living in the UK and Austria see much in the way agriculture is utilised, and am saddened by the way many farmers in Austria in some regions use EU subsidies to build unnecessary “barns” that attract subsidy and then are used for other purposes. The subjects ORFC tackle are critical and I too in, different “fields” of health and social care, struggled to make a difference – generally against those who seek reward for poor contributions. Yanis Varoufakis is worth reading on the challenges of confronting the real issues which sadly are money and how it is abused by those in power at the expense of the poorest. I applaud you efforts and hope others will do what they can in their own areas of work.

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