FARMERS raised a glass together on the eve of the Oxford conferences in a cider debate with Innovative Farmers that brought people from both conferences together.

The Great Cider Debate: An Innovative Tasting was a fringe event open to people attending both the Oxford Farming Conference and Oxford Real Farming Conference and the debate saw around 230 guests enjoy and discuss samples with a panel of cider producers.

The free debate, in its third year, was run by Innovative Farmers, the not-for-profit network with free membership that brings farmers, growers and researchers together to find out about and take part in farm-based trials called field labs.

The event, which previously debated beer and cheese, aims to bring all types of producers together to talk about the benefits of farmer-led research and the three panellists discussed how the decisions and trials they made on farm affected the finished product.

Astrid Barrowman, Outreach Programme and Events Manager at Innovative Farmers, said: “We would like to thank everyone who took part in the Great Cider Debate, it was brilliant to see so many people getting involved in the discussions around the different challenges and solutions in farming. The event was an enjoyable way for people from both conferences to experience the ethos of Innovative Farmers in allowing farmers from all different types of system to share knowledge and ideas.”

Panellists Barny Butterfield, of Sandford Orchards, and Albert Johnson, of Ross on Wye Cider and Perry Company, discussed how they are bringing new aromas to their ciders by trialling on-leaf fermentation, which involves fermenting the juice on fresh apple leaves.

Speaking at the event, Mr Butterfield said: “Innovation is about being open to possibilities that we may have dismissed before - I find that most of my ideas are stolen from 100 years ago. I got the on-leaf fermentation idea from a book that was written in the early 1900s and although it didn’t do what the author wanted, I thought it could work for what we want to do, and it’s been really successful.”

He added: “I really enjoyed taking part in the Innovative Farmers cider debate, it was interesting to hear people’s questions and to share knowledge on this great drink.”

Mr Johnson also talked to the event about his experiences in an Innovative Farmers field lab, which looked at and recorded the positive impacts he found from grazing Shropshire sheep in orchards, such as removing his need for mowing and herbicides.

Aspall Cyder’s Henry Chevallier Guild also took part in the debate and shared his knowledge on how he has experimented with the numerous apple varieties to find those that provide the best flavour and thrive best on his land.

To hear more insight on cider making from the panellists, listen back to yesterday’s BBC Radio Four’s Farming Today, which featured interviews with the panellists.

An information stand on Innovative Farmers will be at Oxford Real Farming Conference for the duration of the event, where farmers can find out about previous, ongoing or future field labs and sign up to the free network. Any farmer or researcher can join the Innovative Farmers network for free to find out about field labs and use the research tools and results from previous and ongoing trials.