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National Organic Cereals round-up

Date Published: 21/07/2011

Over the four years we have now run National Organic Cereals the event has gone from strength-to-strength.

Each year we find ourselves wondering if we can achieve the same success in 12 months time and, so far, each time we feel like we’ve done just that.

A full house listens intently to the morning's presentations
A full house listens intently to the morning's presentations

[THWACK] – yes, that’s the sound of a self-inflicted pat on the back, but the success of the event is not something we can take all of the credit for. It works because of the support and commitment of all those who stand behind it, including our host farmers, speakers, sponsors, exhibitors, suppliers and all those who turn up to make the whole thing worthwhile [offers of work writing Oscars acceptance speeches are now being accepted…].

We’re always extremely keen on getting detailed feedback, both the good and the bad, which comes through the forms we give to everyone who attends, as well as the event director, Steven Jacobs, hitting the phones from the day after each NOC to see what the key people have to tell us. Taking that on board gives us the basis to tune and refine things next year – and every subsequent year you can see the benefits of this work.

So, what exactly was it we’re so pleased about?

The nitty-gritty

For a start the venue was pretty much perfect. Clive Martin, of Bedlam Farms Ltd, did us proud making available his huge barn, which enabled us to have the dais and seating for the presentations in one section, with the dining area and trade stands in a directly adjoining one. This made for a great atmosphere and meant that the only need to venture into the occasional rain showers was to reach the toilets (which, incidentally,  huge numbers of people commented on as being some of the best mobile facilities they had seen – another lesson we learned from the past!).

Lunch was a great time for networking at National Organic Cereals.
Lunch was a great time for networking. In the background you can see the entrance to the stage and seating area.
The range of topics and speakers for the day was also well received, kicked-off with a very interesting overview of an initiative by BQP, Waitrose and some forward-thinking farmers to create an equitable supply chain that spreads the risks and rewards across it. The trial project, including OF&G licensees, is going well and has potential to be a much wider model for the future.

We heard about the trial crops from Roger Wyartt, of Organic Seed Producers, of which 41 organic varieties had been planted on the farm the previous season, and consultant Mark Measures, of the Institute of Organic Training and Advice, examined weed control and non-inversion tillage, which many people commented on as being of great interest.

The farm walks were an even more highly-organised affair this year because of comments in the past that delegates would like more time out in the fields and, crucially, to be able to hear the speaker talking about them. To this end we broke up the walks into groups which moved around a number of stations in the fields at which they received different, relevant talks and were able to ask question. They were ushered by group leaders equipped with two-way radios and marginally sinister-looking ear pieces, to ensure their squawking handsets didn’t interrupt proceedings. These arrangements seem to have allowed people to get much more from this important part of the day.

Farm Walk
The farm walk was a key feature of the day.
Lunch is always a high point and was, again, a proper sit-down affair at tables decorated with white cloths and the provision of proper metal cutlery – a rarity for a one-day farm-based event. A hog roast was the main event, with the organic hog courtesy of Waitrose and BQP.

The afternoon saw a presentation from Alex Smith, of Alara Wholefoods, on the Why I Love Organic national promotional campaign, following by some fascinating insights into the market from Nigel Gossett, of Norton Organic.

We have always made the opportunity to ask and answer questions a central component of the day and this year was no exception, with BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today presenter, Charlotte Smith, as the chair and giving a masterclass that David Dimbleby would have learned something from watching!

Gratifyingly, Charlotte commented afterwards what a sharp and intelligent audience we had and how high she thought the calibre of questions was. We sent her away with a cake for her colleagues in the Farming Today office. We’re presuming they got it…

All-in-all, as you can tell by now, we’re very happy with how the day went. It even just about broke even, which is always a relief. Despite that though, within a week we held a debrief at the office and, as well as plotting for next year, looked at anything that needed refining further.

We took copious amounts of photographs during the day, as well as some video. You can browse through the photographs in the slideshow below and we’ll share the video as soon as we’ve had chance to edit it into something watchable!

If you were at National Organic Cereals, thank you for being there and, if you haven’t already, please do send your feedback and thoughts to arable@organicfarmers.org.uk.

If you weren’t there, hopefully we’ve whetted your appetite for next year. We’ll be posting links to the day’s presentation in a week or so and, in the meantime, you can read the reports in the Farmers Guardian here and here.