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Need more R&D, citizen science on British farms – says farmer at largest UK organic event

Date Published: 11/07/2017

Britain’s organic farmers and growers were given a rallying call to come together to share on farm research across the country at this year’s National Organic Combinable Crops (NOCC) conference.

Delegates at the largest on-farm event in the sector’s calendar were told that immediate action was needed to develop crops which could better handle climate change whilst continuing to produce the good quality food that customers wanted.

Over 200 delegates from across the supply chain gathered at the Fullerton Farms Partnership in Andover, Hampshire to hear that the organic food and farming needed to take the future of the sector into its own hands.

During a panel session chaired by Farming Today and Countryfile presenter Charlotte Smith, Professor Martin Wolfe, Principal Scientific Adviser at the Organic Research Centre, said it was vital for crop development to be focused on varieties which are more sustainable.

But he warned that creating crop varieties which were less dependent on artificial inputs and could cope with a rapidly changing climate would take time, and unless that work began now it would be catastrophic for UK arable farming.

Roger Baird of SOPA and Cambridgeshire organic farmer Stephen Briggs said a collaborative and DIY approach to crop development was needed, with producers urged to take on more ‘citizen science’ by running their own trials and sharing the results with others.

The panel discussion was just one of the fascinating talks and demonstrations given at NOCC, which this year celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Non-organic and organic farmers sat on the afternoon’s Innovation panel. Nuffield scholar, Andy Howard and Weston farm’s John Cherry who is also the host of the Groundswell event discussed innovation in agriculture with Sophie Alexander and John Pawsey who are both organic farmers and are members of the farmer-owned grain marketing company Organic Arable. The conversation, presided over by Abby Rose of Farmerama, focused on key innovations on panellists’ own farms ranging from compost tea to intercropping and relay cropping, and from seed selection to ensuring quality and adding value.

John Pawsey said, “What’s never happened before is having two conventional and two organic farmers on the same panel. We’re all seeking a biological system rather than a chemical one, and so we are beginning to talk the same language.”

Delegates ranging from some of the most innovative organic and non-organic producers to millers, bakers and also heard from academics and scientists who discussed everything from robots to soil science.

Visitors also heard from farmer-owned grain marketing company Organic Arable, who discussed the benefits of focusing on customer demand for good quality to drive efficiencies and profits.

As usual, delegates took part in a farm walk – this year in blazing sunshine – which gave them an insight into a 400 hectare arable estate run by James Liddell and his sons Tom and Hugh, which includes agroforestry, a vineyard and a hospitality business offering beautiful outdoor spaces for weddings.

And as well as being treated to a fantastic lunch of organic pork, vegetables, breads and cakes, visitors got to break bread in the field, sampling sourdough made by baker Kimberley Bell from flour using ORC Wakelyns population wheat.

We would like to thank all of those who helped us hold such a fantastic event once again, particularly the Liddell family.

We look forward to welcoming you all to next year’s NOCC, which will be hosted by Mark Lea in Shropshire in July 2018.


If you missed the event, you can catch up on our Twitter feed using the hashtag #NOCC17. We will also be posting more videos and a special podcast from the day soon, so keep an eye on our website.

Meanwhile you can have a look through our photograph album of the day on the OF&G flickr page and the gallery on OF&G Facebook and Instagram.

Delegates gathering at National Organic Combinable Crops 2017