19 January 2021
Intercropping for sustainability

Two-day Conference with AAB, DIVERSify and ReMIX at Reading University

6 September 2021
Organic World Congress 2021

New date! Postponed from September 2020

3 July 2020
Environmental Land Management: consultation reopens

Interactive online seminars throughout July

29 June 2020
Benefits and challenges of herbal or diverse leys

Opportunities for farmer involvement

29 April 2020
Tim Bennett is the new Chair of ORC

Former NFU president takes on chairmanship of Organic Research Centre

Brexit challenges

Brexit will present us with many challenges. These will include trade with the EU; compliance with EU or UK organic regulations and international equivalency agreements; access to research and knowledge exchange funding ,where the EU has until now played a critical role; and future support for conversion to and maintenance of organic systems, recognising the delivery of public benefits by organic producers. But there are also emerging opportunities. How can we best engage with and make the most of them?

Public money for public goods

Session chaired by Emma Hockridge (Soil Association) with Adrian Steele (Soil Association), Polly Davies (Slade Farm Organics) and Jonathan Baker (Defra)

Adrian Steele opened by saying that we are overdue a new agricultural policy, and it must reflect modern-day needs. This needs to incorporate economic, social and agronomic dimensions and benefits, and appreciate the synergies of agroecological agriculture. Natural capital assessments on organic farms show net profit over time, as opposed to net loss for non-organic. Rewilding, public access, tree planting is not necessarily beneficial, although natural/native wildlife can exist alongside cropping systems.

Jonathan Baker stated that public goods are about public intervention for public value, not just economic measures. Public money for public goods is not about providing financial assistance to farmers, like the CAP, which has shown not to improve practices. The new scheme should encourage the market, rather than pay farmers to produce. Defra’s main role will be to outline achievements needed and provide payment for this, but let others regulate this. It aims to encourage and reward good practice, as well as manage variation of payment rates according to regional priorities. The ELM will pilot nationally in 2020, and be rolled out in 2024.

Polly Davies; The use of ‘public goods’ as a term is problematic - how do you define things that are good for the people? Explaining why it is good for the public is a challenge, as it is complex and most consumers don’t understand what farmers are doing. Agri-environmental contracts makes the farmer contractually obliged to farm less efficiently. A new system must account for the larger economic picture of farms, not just decisions based on efficiently, which should enable organic/agri-environmental farming to pay its way. There must be a balance between farming efficiently organically, and farming under agri-environment schemes, so that farming less efficiently is compensated to promote better environmental impact e.g. waiting to cut silage enables leverets to grow so increase in population.

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • Policy objectives must be linked to policy interventions; paying to produce more nutritious food is not (cost) effective as it does not ensure that the products end up as nutritious products, so there is a need to consider the whole value chain coming from agricultural produce, such as through public procurement, public awareness and managing demand
  • Getting rid of a large proportion of livestock is not the answer, as there are large areas of land that can’t be used for anything other than livestock, as well as the necessary role of animal inputs for non-livestock farming systems
  • The ‘polluter pays’ principle is clearly not comprehensive enough, and there should be a motivation/incentive for producers to improve e.g. rewards for good practice, rather than a fine for bad practice

Action points

  • Support, in terms of payments, as well as otherwise in policy, should continue, particularly to support organic farming to meet public goods needs
  • Defra should avoid becoming too conservationist with the risk of side-lining food from the agriculture bill, although there is an acknowledgement that under current agri-environment frameworks it is difficult to be paid for not producing food
  • Managing the market and production is one thing, but this also must match up with processing, to make sure that healthy, nutritious food that is produced is processed in a way that does not degrade its health benefits

UK organic regulations and equivalence

Chaired by Roger Kerr (OF&G), with Susanne Padel (ORC), Stephen Clarkson (OF&G) and Kathreen Kelliher (Defra)

This session discussed the current recommendations for regulation and equivalence to be included in the English Organic Action Plan. The UK Government have already indicated that the EU organic regulation will be brought into UK law when we leave the EU and integrate contingencies around equivalence and practicalities around the implementation of the organic regulation. The session looked at what we know in detail and considered what further will need to be confirmed, and by when, in the event of a ‘hard Brexit’ in March 2019.

Full report to follow