Horticulture: Protected cropping and related topics
Chair: Roger Hitchings (ORC)
Alan Schofield (OGA/Growing with Nature): Working with the new protected cropping standards: what it means for growers
An organic grower for 28 years used to supply the multiples and local wholesale markets Unhappy with the uncertain returns from both sources established GwN in 1992 to secure a market for own grown produce and later produce from other local growers. Now distributes 400 boxes per week within 50 miles of the holding and works in collaboration with 4 other local growers on production. GwN won the Lorraine award for conservation in food production in 1996 and then was voted best UK Horticultural producer in 1999 by SA/You magazine. In 2004 won the Organic Trophy for his contribution to UK Organic horticulture. Past Chairman of the SA Horticultural Standards committee and UKROFS technical committee. Present day member of the SA Farmer and Grower board. An advisor to Isle of Man Government on Organic production and has recently established a local producer base on the Island selling through a network of Farmers markets. Present Chairman of the Organic Growers Alliance a representative organization for organic vegetable growers.
Les Lane (XL Horticulture): Plastic technologies for crop covers
Presentation - Plastic technologies for crop covers
Kathleen Hewlett (Soil Association): Standards development for protected cropping
Presentation - Standards development for protected cropping
Peter Dollimore (Hankham Organics): Green manuring for protected cropping.
Peter is responsible for all aspects of horticulture at Hankham Organics, which he runs with Miles Denyer. They sell via a box scheme as well as wholesale growing from a 0.7ha glasshouse and 2.5ha of field. After completing a BSc in Environmental Science he decided that sustainable food production was the most important aspect of environmental management. After 3 years at Scragoak Farm in Sussex helping to grow veg for their award winning box scheme then an enjoyable but highly unprofitable spell learning how not to run a business he joined forces with the entrepreneurial Miles to form Hankham Organics.
Presentation - Green manuring for protected cropping
Session Summary -
The combination of Kathleen Hewlett and Alan Schofield’s presentations on organic standards development for protected cropping provided a balanced summary of the formal process from a regulatory perspective, along with the practical implications of proposed standards for growers. There was robust discussion around issues of scale in implementing rotations. While the principle of rotation was considered key in organic production systems, growers pointed out the financial impacts of leaving areas of their glasshouses or polytunnels out of production, particularly a concern for smaller holdings. It was also suggested that cost will drive a number of innovations in the sector in the near future, with rising energy costs forcing re-evaluation of current approaches, for example heating of glasshouses using non-renewable fuels. A key message emerging from the session was that, despite ongoing debate of certain aspects of standard setting for organic production of protected crops, participation in consultative processes within the UK industry is essential to delineate our current position in preparation for EU¬–wide discussion which is scheduled to begin later this year.
Les Lane’s presentation outlining how the manufacture of specialist films has developed in recent years illustrated the potential benefits of incorporating spectral filters into crop cover plastics. Such UV filtering may influence pest behaviour by interfering with the location of host-plants, and could be used to promote more vigorous growth of some plant species which respond better when the far red end of the spectrum is removed. Other advantages of the latest films include greater strength which allows them to be thinner and let in more light, an increased lifespan and improved heat insulation. Discussion indicated that further assessment of the impact of this technology would be beneficial, for example the effect on pollinated crop performance, if insects are less able to locate plants.
Peter Dollimore gave an engaging overview of the future potential of green manures to improve the soil fertility for crops grown under cover. After outlining the advantages and disadvantages of green manures, Peter went on to describe species and combinations of species that have been tried at Hankham Organics. These included buckwheat, green amaranth, phacelia, mung bean, sweet clover and vetch. All have strengths and weaknesses, and a combination approach such as crimson clover, sweet clover or mung bean undersown with buckwheat or amaranth may be a way of making the most of a green manure during an extended break period. There was a lot of interest in this topic from the audience, and discussion emphasised the importance of timing to the success of a green manure.
Discussion Points & Actions Agreed
- Participation in consultation concerning organic standards for protected cropping is essential in the months ahead.
- Spectral filters may bring benefits to growers and further assessment would be beneficial.
- Green manures offer a number of advantages in terms of soil fertility and biodiversity, but this needs to be weighed up against the economic considerations of maintenance and space constraints.