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2008 Congress

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Nikki Robertson
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Nikki Robertson

Freelance Peter Read was among a contingent of Guild members who attended the 2008 congress in Austria and Slovenia for a gathering of journalists from around the world. These are his impressions of the event.

You get unique opportunities at a Congress – most of them enjoyable. This year’s highlight for me at the Austrian and Slovenian Congress was, as a horse lover, visiting the Lipica stud, in southwest Slovenia, where the famous Lipizzaner horse breed was first bred, named and trained.

The lowlight was obliviously polishing off a plate of cold horse – my mind was elsewhere, learning about a Slovenian farmer's Abruzzi sheep dog that lives with and protects his Texel cross flock from wolves.

A close second was not applying early enough to be one of the lucky delegates who visited the small beef herds in the mountains of Austria and taking in the "Sound of Music" views of a country that is more than 70% forest.

I got bitten by the Congress bug at my first one, in Japan in 2007. Never having been to Asia or an IFAJ Congress before, I was apprehensive about spending quite a few days of close contact with about 200 (mostly) strangers on the other side of the world.

But I loved it: listening to the strange mixture of Irish folk music being played by Japanese students – Riverdance is big in Japan, apparently; chatting to an 85 year old farmer whose only holiday from single-handedly tending his (very photogenic) rice terrace was to fight in World War 2; and sharing time with a silk kimono wearing Franz Fischler, the Austrian former EU Commissioner for Agriculture and the President of this year’s Congress.

Listening to Mr Fischler this year, saying that there was too much comment masquerading as analysis in the media and that globalisation does not have to mean the end of small family farms, I couldn’t get out of my head the vision of the well girthed and charismatic CAP reformer, spread-eagled and face-down, snoring gently on a futon, oblivious to the partying around him in the open-plan wood Ryokan, or rural hostel.

It was enjoyable renewing last year's friendships with the Swedes and Finns who kindly had me to stay on my return from Japan by the Trans Siberian rail route; with the American who subsequently got me some freelance work, and with the confident delegate (I'd better not say the nationality, but I'll call him Poirot) who audio recorded and photographed every mountain, woman and cow and said something like "Yes ... I thought as much" to whatever answer his questions received.

It was interesting to meet delegates from Serbia, putting in a first Congress appearance. I'm afraid one of them (who is writing a book on horse carriages) lost me when he got into the intricacies of the real, as he saw it, reasons behind the Balkans War.

There were delegates from print, internet, radio, TV and PR, the majority from Europe and North America. It could only add to the enjoyment of the Congress if more people from other parts of the World attended.

Next year is Texas, 2010 is Belgium, 2011 is Canada and 2012 is Sweden. Monarchists will be interested to know that there is a possibility that the King of Sweden might put in an appearance in 2012.

Guild member Steve Dubé, farming correspondent on the Western Mail, takes the opportunity to interview former European agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler during the IFAJ Congress in Austria.

Guild secretary Don Gomery (left) and Howard Venters of Shepherd Publishing enjoying the 2008 international rural journalists' gathering in Austria - and already looking forward to the 2009 event in Texas, USA.

Peter Read chats to Swedish journalist Karin Murén, who he first met at the IFAJ Congress in Japan last year.

Katie Lomas of Farmers Guardian receives an IFAJ professional development award from outgoing president, David Markey. The awards were presented to eight young farming journalists from around the World to help them attend the 2008 Congress.

Pictures by Joe Watson.

Having experienced his first IFAJ Congress, Steve Dubé of the Western Mail adds:

"I found the congress a very interesting experience and enjoyed the company. From a professional point of view it generated some excellent copy.

Gussing village was fascinating, and the Lipica horses very entertaining. The best bit for me was interviewing Franz Fischler towards the end of the hilltop open air reception at Schloss Stainz, and then having a long interview/conversation with him when he sat next to me on the coach on the way to Ljubljana the next day.

Gussing generated material for my weekly column and Fischler for a splash in the Country & Farming supplement I edit. I made some useful contacts as well.

I think most Guild members would enjoy the trip as much as I did. It certainly is a way of broadening one's knowledge and experience of farming.

My biggest disappointment was being unable to pick the visits. Delegates had to opt for one of three tours and could not pick'n'mix, so I missed out on some of the visits I was particularly interested in."

Read a couple of the articles written by Steve at the WalesOnline website:

For more impressions and (unedited!) images, see the Chairman's Blog and visit the IFAJ website for pictures and a Congress Blog by US journalist Carl Zimmerman.

For details of the 2009 IFAJ Congress in Texas, visit the event's dedicated website. For one-to-one advice on booking a place, contact the Guild secretary, Don Gomery.

Read a new brochure on the benefits of being a member of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists through membership of the British Guild here.

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