Farming conferences – how useful and effective are they?

03.01.13 Farming conferences – how useful and effective are they? Discussion archive

The discussion tied in with both the Oxford Farming Conference and Oxford Real Farming Conference and generated mixed views about whether farming conferences were worth attending, but networking, key speakers, hearing different views, feeling inspired, and knowledge exchange were cited as the key reasons to go.

Many less well-known conferences such as ‘Update’, ‘Pepper Technology’, and the Organic Research Centre conference were suggested as good conferences. Costs, topics, and exclusivity were given as reasons for a lack of young people, with schemes such as competitions and scholarships suggested as good ways of encouraging attendance.

In addition, it was suggested that webinars and social media would make conferences more accessible to young farmers, isolated farmers and those who couldn’t afford to attend. Holding the ORFC and OFC at the same time weakened debate it was felt, and divided farmers – the two should work together.

The NFU conference is well thought of, but must focus on farmers rather than business. Twitter helps empower farmers to ‘find their voice’, have input and feel equal when unable to attend a conference. Streaming the conference live through video with playback options would be of great benefit. Measuring the success of a conference could perhaps be measured by how much difference it made to a farming business afterwards.

The discussion held on Thursday 3rd January 2013 looked at the topic of “Farming conferences – how useful and effective are they?” and generated a total of 280 tweets on the topic from 54 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders, as well as members of the general public.

Q1a If you’ve never been to a farming conference – why should you start going?

  • Like most farmers I’m getting too old to start now
  • Multiple reasons to attend, social meeting opportunity, networking, the chance to hear and question key subject speakers
  • Cannot think of a reason to go. Prefer to wait and read about highlights in the press
  • Some good, some not so good. Some people enjoy them, some don’t. Only way to find out is to go. Simple as
  • Choose the right conference and leave inspired by the speakers
  • If they are a local conference they are good for networking, seeing what practices are being used in area
  • Results from Malvern Farm conf delegate survey 49%-Speakers, 23%-Networking, 15%-Business advice, 5%-Socialise, 2%-Trade Show
  • Farming conferences are a fantastic way to interact with other likeminded people of all ages. Lots to learn
  • In these ‘Social Media times’, putting faces to Twitter friends ‘names’ & talking to others at conferences is beneficial
  • Seems an old fashioned way of gaining information in the age of Google
  • Meet great people, share ideas and experience, part of bigger community – speakers a bonus!
  • Tend to be very expensive
  • BCPC Crop Protection used to be great: science and industry. Took students most years. Cost is now too high though
  • Even if you only learn one new thing, it could be enough to improve your whole business

Q1b How would you recognise a ‘good’ conference when you saw one? Can you tell before a year later?

  • It’s hard to tell a good conference just by the speakers, in Aus some speakers do the rounds so end up seeing them a lot
  • It’s about bums on seats. Good ones sell out – Oxford, Norfolk
  • With time at a premium, the conference you choose must include a beneficial subject and information not readily available
  • I can’t believe conference organisers aren’t taking advantage of social media more, seem like lost opp to me
  • Leave the conference having learnt something….having met some interesting people
  • Us as organisers (Malvern conf) see lively debate from speakers and delegates as a good sign – interaction and engagement
  • At the NFU conference last yr they had a Twitter screen running during the Q&A. I had my question asked via it
  • If the conference is good or bad, if you leave it and you’ve built your network & learnt something, that’s job done!
  • I would think a good conference has actual topics and new insights for those who r in agri. Things to learn!
  • I think if you make contact with speakers they are usually keen to talk – it becomes knowledge exchange

Q2a Which conferences do you think are most important, to you or the industry? Why?

  • SA Soil Symposium, cheap, packed with great speakers, I learnt loads, aimed at organic but all would have benefited
  • NFU would be my first choice for speakers and delegates and Pepper Technology for protected Hort
  • The most important conferences are the ones that make a difference to you &/or your business. The ones that challenge you
  • The Norfolk farming conference is a good one day event
  • The oft maligned levy boards put on some excellent conferences covering salient topics of the day
  • How do we know which they are beforehand? We don’t I guess
  • Conference experience that inspires you, builds network & teaches you is a good conf, it can be a national or a local one
  • Update run by Christopher Brockhurst for last 27years every Nov in Hampshire with 6 topical talks + gd chairman
  • Do we class e.g. Cereals Event as a conference? I do
  • My view that shows/exhibitions are more valuable than conferences. More time for 1on1 with people you want/need to speak to
  • Potatoes in Practice, outdoor practical event for potato growers – network, talk to researchers

Q2b Which conferences are most welcoming and useful to young/ wannabe farmers?

  • Trying to get the young wannabes to attend can be challenging – despite help fm Fed of Young Farmers and colleges
  • Malvern Farming conf need/want young delegates & attract some through agri colleges & student ticket price but maybe more relevant topics needed?
  • Free entry as prizes via Young Farmers would help get young people to conferences
  • A few Harper Adams Uni students are at OFC13 as a thank you representing the university
  • WoldMarsh hold a comp for next gen to attend Oxford
  • Three counties is still good. with so much info online, conferences provide a good way to get the key info across
  • The recent NFU Future of Livestock Farming was aimed at young people – really informative and interesting. And it was FREE!
  • I often wonder do we mean Young Farmers or younger farmers/agriculturalists?
  • The Under 40s Growers Group is for fruit industry – 3 day biannual study tour somewhere in Europe. Sponsors mean low fee

Q3a Who do farming conferences really reach – genuine agents for change or the usual suspects?

  • I do worry that the majority of delegates are on the BASIS/FACTS points merry go round. But most agronomy conf are fantastic
  • Conferences can reach & inspire forward thinkers through quality speakers & content or facilitate a moaning match
  • Perhaps it depends on the ticket price?
  • Most conferences/seminars I attend/speak at, audience tends to be same mix of land agents/solicitors/bankers
  • Measuring uptake of new practices from info from conferences wd be very interesting – see what works for growers
  • Certain conferences have turned into a promotion/advert for ag merchants and not much else
  • I think we are ALL potential agents for change – conferences can bring this out in everyone

Q3b Are ag conferences accessible to all involved in the industry? If not, how can they be made so?

  • In Aus the price/value for money rules me out of attending conf’s as they are a ripoff!
  • Never really considered going to OFC. Always thought you have to be important to go?
  • I would be more inclined to pay to attend a series of online webinars that are interactive & I could save for reference
  • Cost can be prohibitive – in time and money. Got to be ensure value and keep affordable
  • How many conferences have young farmers integral to their organisation? People on the inside bring others from outside
  • I understand Oxford Real Farming Conference was set up as organisers see need for more practical talks
  • Malvern Farming Conference is good at encouraging students…v cheap prices and networking encouraged afterwards
  • Time/travel is a big factor, a 2 day conf = meals & accom plus another day travel time
  • I have driven far and wide to go to conferences and I see it as an investment in myself!

Q4 Is there an issue or subject that you think needs or justifies its own new conference? Who should run it and how?

  • There could be an argument made (not by me, I’m a nice bloke!) that there are already too many conferences around…
  • New conference needed on the Groceries Adjudicator & supply chain, NFU best placed to host
  • Most topics are covered. Just need more conferences in the west
  • Farm conservation conference
  • Social Media conf would be much improved if face to face. Particularly for 1st timers or people who aren’t sure. Would also improve strength of connections when going online. “How to” or case studies could be online for follow ups
  • Recent EFFP conference had interactive audience voting on loads of questions. A great idea with big audience
  • Conferences are an excuse for meeting, sharing ideas and hearing from inspirational people – think of a reason and hold one!
  • Energy gets a lot of Coverage. To maintain interest they need to be different, engaging and varied to make it worth going
  • Social media is enabling younger farmers to gain more confidence with their voice

Q5 Does holding the OFC & ORFC at the same time work, or does it polarize the issues? Should they try to work together more?

  • Personally divisions within the industry be they conferences or between sectors weaken our voice
  • OFC and ORFC must work together. We are all farmers with same goal, feeding people without depleting our natural resources
  • Holding 2 Oxford conferences at the same time could weaken debate
  • Only heard of ORFC in last couple of days. Thought it must be part of OFC but it appears to be in competition! Madness!

Q6a Does the NFU conference do what it should for a member-based union? What does it do well and what could it improve on?

  • NFU needs to be focused on farmers rather than “industry partners”. More focus on small farmers rather than big business

Q6b The NFU conference & OFC are both big events at the start of the year. How are they different? What do they both add?

  • Need better advertising of ag conferences. Haven’t heard of half the conferences mentioned tonight
  • NFU has a good mix for all Sectors, Next Generation, Tenants, Technology etc through breakout sessions and main speakers
  • Is Jan a good time for conferences? Any other time in the year that would work?
  • I’ve been to Oxford Conference previously, but I find the first week of January too early after Xmas & New Year

Q7 What tangible outcomes have come from the conferences held during 2012? If none, then why not?

  • Rural crime conference enabled cross border networking of both police and farmers, will make a difference in my opinion
  • Not really a Conference but the SOS Dairy meeting in London showed how industry can come together. EU sow crates next issue!?
  • Organic Research Centre January conference ORC13 inspires me to keep pushing farming boundaries
  • I take away greater knowledge & inspired 2 learn more-if all that attend do then we have a knowledgeable industry driven 2 improve
  • Twitter Stats from NFU12: 208 unique NFU mentions, 1,059 RTs of NFU hitting 180,000 followers, gained 88 new followers
  • Perhaps sometimes things are too complicated for an immediate singular viewpoint & can allow an informed consensus to grow

Q8a Should conferences embrace new technologies & stream the proceedings live or ‘as live’ on a short delay?

  • YES!!! If they don’t they will be left behind, they should moderate though
  • Sometimes, as long as there are links to the presentations
  • Unsurprisingly, I think they should be streamed. I love to follow via “#” but live following would be so much better
  • Each conference topic should be recorded and put on YouTube for people who cannot get there
  • YES and YES. With twitter feed on screen behind the speakers!
  • YES…universities etc. could use that facility to lecture/teach? Although videos of events are still v.useful
  • Conferences must embrace communications technology or become marginalised. How is a separate question!
  • When I say moderate, I simply mean for language or tweets not about talk, everything else goes in stream
  • Speaker should see tweet stream too & tweets saying “this talk is boring” etc, that way they can change it up
  • To play devil’s advocate though – someone has to pay so conferences can happen. Complete open access may destroy them
  • The recent NFU Future of Livestock conference was live steamed, very useful to follow. Still available on NFU YouTube stream
  • Could they not have a live twitter feed during a conference so us folk can ask Qs for them to discuss similar to This Morning?
  • Re streaming: spoke at an international conference, critical of a US farmers cows knowing he wasn’t there – next thing audio on website
  • Looking at starting up a network of people connected via Skype and have general chats about cattle, sound interesting?

Q8b Has following during the day via hashtags been useful for conferences you’ve not been able to attend?

  • It’s helpful for me in Australia to see some overseas conf’s this way (some in Aus too) you get a concise breakdown of talk
  • Although I didn’t know what the OFC was about today, for future conferences it could be a very useful tool
  • OFC and ORFC have been busy today – almost too busy. I look forward to the Ag press for a nice summary with pics!
  • Hash tags do help (HGCA conference was great) but next step for conferences could be selected webinars so all can attend
  • Think all name tags and presentations should have twitter name
  • Social media of great importance if going to inspire a generation to get involved! Been following hash tags today
  • Not sure about hashtags my coverage has been from people I follow

Simon Haley, Reading Agricultural Consultants (@halo42 on Twitter) and Alan Spedding, 8 January 2013

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