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National Organic Combinable Crops 2015

All the resources and information from the National Organic Combinable Crops conference in 2015

On Tuesday this week, (or Monday night to be precise) I
intrepidly set off from Cornwall to the east of England to Suffolk to the
National Organic Combinable Crops event.

We had been tasked with footprinting the host John Pawsey’s
farm and then being ‘a stop’ on the farm walk in the morning where we would be
able to present the report to 5 groups of delegates. The morning dawned fine and sunny (with
promises of more inclement weather later on) and having now worked out where
Suffolk was I arrived.

The day way organised by Organic Farmers and Growers and chaired by Charlotte Smith and delegates heard
from a&
range of knowledgeable presenters including the host farmer John Pawsey,
researchers from the Organic Research Centre and Newcastle University as well
as policy and market insights as to the future of the organic sector.

The morning started with John explaining the farm set up and
the journey that he had gone through from converting to organic some years
ago. John explained his views on the industry,
including the need for applied research and knowledge transfer, as well as
looking further afield to the research and development that was happening in
other countries with supported organic sectors.
The importance of soil management and the management of the biological
populations found within it was highlighted by Dr Julia Cooper from Newcastle,
who gave an enthusiastic presentation on the importance of soil (especially as
2015 is the International Year of Soils).

Avoidance of compaction, building of soil organic matter
levels and feeding the soil life were some of the highlights of her talk and I
was sorry to not be able to hear her talk on the farm walk (where she was
residing in a hole) as I was otherwise engaged explaining carbon to the
rotating groups.

Also the morning sessions heard an interesting presentation
from the organic research centre focussing on their work around breeding
composite cross populations of wheat.
The view was that results from field trials were positive and that the
increased diversity allowed for greater stability within the crop and how it
behaved under climatic and soil conditions.

As expected there was lots of discussion surrounding weed
control and different methods to control black grass (including the trials
going on on-farm looking at grazing with sheep in March before the stem
extension phase).

It was a shame that I wasn't able to go round the farm walk
and see the different stations as there were interesting sessions looking at
variety trials, incorporating sheep into the arable rotation and soil
management, however I was stationed inside the wood chip shed where I was
talking about the carbon emissions and sinks on the farm.


Results of the carbon footprint calculation from John’s farm

Infographic (showing the highlights)

Figures associated with common emissions and sinks from
(a great infographic that Jonathan created for the event that uses more
general data).

After a great lunch, the afternoon session focussed on
markets and policy and the mood was optimistic. Retail and sector
analysts said a strong climate for organic food sales indicates that growers
who were able to adapt and respond to changing consumer demands could
strengthen their businesses and improve their financial and environmental
Speaking in the afternoon sessions Chris Cowan, consumer insight director at
Kantar World panel, said the face of UK food shopping was undergoing
significant change. This was leading to
shoppers buying more food and switching to higher quality produce. Christopher Stopes, president of IFOAM echoed these optimistic
views and explained that the feeling was positive for organic food across the
European Union.

“One of the major opportunities will be
to increase the production of arable crops to supply feed, because at the
moment we are exposed to the threat of low-integrity imports,” he told
delegates. The day was
great and was a fab opportunity to talk with interested growers about the
challenges that come with balancing tillage, carbon sequestration, long term
soil health management and short term financial cash flow. Balancing the need to grow productive crops
with long term strategies to build soil organic matter levels (and organic
carbon) will be challenging but sharing ideas and talking to researchers to
shape future trials should help to highlight where the opportunities for gains are.

For more information on Organic Farmers and Growers please click here.