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Adrian Blackshaw – Social regeneration can be delivered by organic farming: Shaping the future of UK farm policy

Date Published: 26/04/2018

As Defra consults on the future of UK food and farming outside the European Union, OF&G — together with other leading organic organisations — is urging government to recognise the opportunities organic offers to deliver a green Brexit.

As part of building our own response to the consultation, OF&G is asking leaders in food and farming about what the next steps should be to ensure the country’s environment and economy are properly protected, and that our farmers have the support they need to produce safe, quality and nutritious food.

In this blog post, Adrian Blackshaw, farmer and Chairman of the Organic Trade Board discusses how the UK is lagging behind other EU countries on organic, and what his top three priorities would be to deliver a fairer, more environmentally sustainable food and farming system.

Adrian Blackshaw, Chairman, Organic Trade Board 

Michael Gove suggests public money should support the delivery of public goods. What do you see as public goods?

There are a number of public goods that flow from organic farming: preserving the landscape, animal welfare, biodiversity and the protection of pollinating insects, water quality, soil quality, climate stability, air quality, food security and rural regenerations.

Public money should be set aside to reward farmers who provide these public goods. However, it’s not all about public money from the Government, it’s also important for banks and private investors to step up and support the organic farming agenda.

If you were Michael Gove, what would your priorities be delivering a fairer, more environmentally sustainable food and farming system?

First, I would protect the quality of our soils. In the UK, we have significantly damaged our soils by pouring chemical fertiliser and artificial oil-based fertilisers into the ground.

If I were Michael Gove, I would restore our soils, so they can sustain a healthy worm count and contain increased organic matter to produce nutritious, sustainable food. The damage is reversible, but we need to act now to restore soil quality.

Secondly, I would give more attention to water courses. Run-off from farms into streams and rivers is a serious concern at the moment. Soil erosion from run-off results in poor soil structure, reduced nutrients in the soil and a decreased water holding capacity. This needs to be maintained to stop the degradation of our soils.

Finally, I would create a sustainable farming system which flows from farm ecology. By that I mean farming that is not monoculture, is not industrial and will not only produce a farming yield in crop terms but also a financial and social yield. Social regeneration can be delivered by organic farming.

What’s your vision for food and farming in the next 20 years?

A collection of leading organisations in the organic sector, including the OTB, recently wrote a letter to Michael Gove calling for organic food and drink to have a 10% market share. We are currently at 1.5%. We would also like to see 10% of land in the UK under organic production and we are currently at 3%.

In 20 years’ time, countries across Europe will be at 30, 40 or even 50% land farming organically. By 2028, I would like to see 20% organic production in the UK which still leaves 80% for commercial farming.

This ratio also applies to market share, I would like to see 20% organic market share, which leaves 80% for commercial food and drink.

The UK is seriously lagging behind and we have some catching up to do. Consumers are calling for more organic produce and we need to satisfy this demand which in return will lead to a fairer, more sustainable food and farming system.

 

– OF&G is publishing a series of interviews with leading figures in food and farming to find out how we can protect our environment and produce good food post-Brexit. To read more in the series, follow the OF&G blog here.