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Arable conversion event draws large crowd

Date Published: 30/06/2008

Potential converts to organic arable production were given an insight into the opportunities and challenges of the sector at a one-day national event hosted by leading organic certifier, Organic Farmers & Growers.

More than 150 delegates, including farmers and suppliers, gathered at Great Berwick Farm, Shrewsbury, for the ‘Contemplating Conversion’ event.

It was the first such event organised by Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G), in conjunction with Abacus Organic Associates, and saw expert speakers sharing their knowledge of the benefits, challenges and requirements of making the move to organic arable.

As well as talks by experienced organic arable farmers, researchers and advisors, delegates were able to tour the farm’s crops of oats, barley, triticale, red clover mix and potatoes, as well as viewing trial plots planted for the event.

Lunch included a stew made with beef from the organic longhorn herd raised by the Barker family on the farm.

Organic Farmers & Growers’ Chief Executive, Richard Jacobs, said: “It was an extremely practical and useful day. All of the feedback we’ve had so far has been positive and everyone seems to have welcomed the opportunity to network and gain real-world, useful advice. We badly need more organic arable producers and hopefully we were able to open the eyes of many people to the opportunities.

“Based on the success of the day, we’ll definitely be looking at putting on similar events in the future. We have to extend our thanks to Sam Barker and his family for providing the venue and an excellent example of what is possible in this sector.”

The event was backed by many big names and key players in the industry, including headline sponsors, HGCA, Triodos Bank, ABP, Greenvale AP, Savills, BOCM Pauls and Nicholson Machinery.

Speakers included: farmer Andrew Charlton on what being organic has meant to him and his business; Dr Debbie Sparkes, of Nottingham University, on options for conversion; Stephen Briggs, of Abacus Organic Associates, on conversion strategies; Keith Preston, director at Savills, on making organic arable profitable; Nigel Gossett, of Norton Organic Grain, on marketing; Matt Heaton, of Natural England, covering current agri-environment schemes; Stephen Clarkson, of OF&G, on the requirements of certification.

OF&G Chairman, Richard Thompson open and closed the proceedings as well as chairing the question and answer sessions and sharing some of the experiences of his family’s more than 50 years in organics.