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

Small-scale production systems: Supporting small-scale businesses and those who work in them

Small-scale systems with their with short supply chains run at the highest efficiency, but are largely ignored by support schemes. Such systems can offer opportunities for new entrants, but finding such opportunities can be a major challenge. This block of workshops addressed these key questions.

Initiatives to support small-scale production and short-supply chains

Session led by Jyoti Fernandes and Rebeca Laughton (Landworkers' Alliance)

Rebecca Laughton and group

The session explored how we might work collectively to make a case for Government recognition of, and support for, small-scale production and short supply-chains – so that Government understands that it is a key means of ensuring access for people to healthy food and the value of supplying directly to the public. The opportunities to shape public policy to encourage new entrants who often come into the industry through small-scale farms) into farming and ensure access to land/start-up costs/advice on business plans/training schemes were discussed. Scotland’s practice of giving £70k to new farming entrants is underpinned by Scottish policy which perceives encouraging new entrants as contributing to the wider public good. The Ecological Land Cooperative and County Farms are two mechanisms to help encourage small-scale farmers to start up. The Organic Acton Plan will explore ways in which to deliver economically resilient small scale farms which have the necessary infrastructure investment - capital grants for farm improvements, marketing and processing grants. The organic sector will continue to question where financial support, which currently comes through the Rural Development Programme, will be drawn from.

The session contained a particular focus on the Horticultural campaigns launched this year – New Deal for Horticulture and Horticultural Renewal Programme. There is a need for more fruit and vegetables to be produced in the UK as there is a massive opportunity especially for small-scale and organic producers. It highlighted the work of the Horticultural Roundtable including a focus on developments in Environmental Land Management scheme with a horticultural Test and Trial project.

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

  • Those at the meeting gave visible support for the New Deal for Horticulture and the Horticultural Renewal Programme
  • Important to push for links between the Agricultural Bill and the Department of Health. Small-scale farms lend themselves very well to initiatives promoting the health benefits engaging with growing and the land – e.g social prescribing, preventative health and care farming. Could be a finiancially viable care option. Could the sector do more to tap into and get on lists for Clinical Commission groups / Register of venues and connector schemes? In January Defra funded expansion of the capacity of care farms
  • Community Supported Agriculture can offer public engagement on a much wider scale
  • Look to Wales where there has been an emphasis on the public goods of social cohesion and cultural integrity of farming - need to get public onto farms to encourage them to support farms.
  • Training should be targeted to small-scale producers
  • There is a lot of work being done in Leicester on growing the local food sector – explore for shared learning?
  • Support from the group on making it easier for small-scale producers to gain organic certification and discuss further whether it is Certification Bodies or Government responsibility to make it more affordable? Group certification/PGS (Participatory Guarantee Schemes) training is vital
  • Capital grants should not all be about new equipment and should also include appropriate equipment for small-scale farms
  • Lump sum payments should contain a clause that it is only given to those retiring to allow new entrants
  • Training and development, mentoring and support - this should be industry led with support from the Government
  • Farmers' markets and Food co-ops to supply a wider range of different products – look to the Open Food Network

Action points

  • Link the Horticulture campaign aims with the Organic Action Plan
  • Those working on the action plan to explore options for social prescribing as an opportunity to support small scale farmers
  • Those working on the action plan to explore further policies around land use planning and Permitted Development Rights for holdings of less then 5ha
  • Co-learning from horticulture to other agricultural sectors on direct marketing
  • Agri–food Industry Skills Strategy to include small scale and short supply chains as part of its overall strategy (Working with the Food and Drink Sector Council through its Agricultural Productivity and Workforce working groups, the skills leadership group aims to deliver a new agriculture and horticulture skills plan within wider Industrial Strategy proposals to accelerate growth across the Agri-Food Chain.
  • Explore alternative means of support for local food infrastructure including engaging with Local Authorities on schemes for revitalising town centres

New entrants: making ideals a reality

Chaired by Laurence Smith (ORC), with Kate Collyns (OGA) and Kai Lange (Biodynamic Agricultural College)

In the context of aging farmers (average age 60 years) and only 2.9% of UK land certified organic, how do we encourage new entrants? Who will be feeding us in 20 years’ time? What is stopping you?

Laurence Smith

The session considered three areas that need to be addressed by new entrants to organic – access to land, knowledge and money from different perspectives. OGA’s Kate Collyns spoke from personal experience about access to land and funding, many sources were detailed in her slides, including Future Farmers, a Guide to Running Training Schemes on Farms. Kai Lange shared 30 years’ experience at the Biodynamic Agricultural College focused on practical training to address entrants’ needs and approaches to practical learning. Laurence Smith (ORC) addressed academic courses (BSc, MSc, PhD), outlining various providers and funding.

Action points:

  • Obtain funding for a digital ‘hub’ or entry point to be developed & managed all different data sources giving information and advice on these topics.
  • Object to 7-year one-off payment without any constraints on use as potentially providing immediate cash inputs which may be used short term with no long-term provision being made.
  • Organic certification costs are a large overhead for small producers, a free or reduced rate would be helpful.