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Producer conference review and a look at the year

Date Published: 31/01/2014

The Organic Research Centre Producers’ Conference is a key point in the organic year. It brings together people from across the sector to talk about the key issues and ruminate on research developments. Perhaps just as importantly, it keeps personal relationships fresh among people who might only get together for this occasion.

Our team members who were there want to take this opportunity to thank the organisers for doing the usual excellent job of creating a very relevant programme that stimulated plenty of debate.

The advent of the conference is as good a time as any to have a look over the last 12 months and this year it’s fitting that it’s our research and development officer, Steven Jacobs, who does the pondering:

As the very wonderful and highly informative 2014 Organic Research Centre Producers’ Conference drew to a close, I sat in the audience on the final day reflecting on the year past for me and for the organic sector in general.

Organic Research Centre Producers' Conference 2014. Photo by S Jacobs2013 has not been kind to me and my family. It has been a time of massive ups and downs these past twelve months. 2013 has held, for me, some of the most trying times of my life. I’ve suffered bereavement and severe illness but I’ve also witnessed recovery, cooperation and great success.

One of the positive things that most stands out for me is the National Organic Cereals farmer focus group. The event is something we hold each year to help bring the sector together, to see where the farming community can work more closely together and where individuals may need a little extra support. To design this one-day event we have in the past relied on external help that has been gathered in a fairly ad hoc way.

For the 2014 event we decided to invite farmers to meet together with us to see and to feed into what has become a firm fixture on the calendar for many organic producers, and not just those in cereals or even those just in organics.

To cut a long story short, nine organic farmers have agreed to give their time and share their knowledge and experience to help make the event, now in it’s seventh year, work well and continue to be for them the most relevant on-farm day in the year. They give their time freely. They travel to meetings, they respond to emails and telephone calls and they share with us and with each other their enthusiasm, their skill and passion for what they do. And I am, of course, learning all along the way. For instance about farm business tenancies (FBT), land agents and weedsurfers. Curiously not all as separate in concept from each other as you might think!

Back at the Organic Research Centre Producers’ Conference, and as the final 2014 conference plenary drew to a close, I found I had my hand in the air. I’d been listening to people arguing, mostly in an articulate and heartfelt way, for the detail on such lofty concepts as sustainability and intensification.

Organic Research Centre Producers' Conference 2014. Pic by S JacobsWrestling with topics within these strands we heard calls for more and for less waste. More in the case of organic sewage and less with regard to food going into landfill. When the speaker, Lawrence Woodward OBE, spotted my hand waving above the heads of the audience he, after asking me if I was ‘going to be quick’ – I said I was – had the microphone brought to me.

I took the mic, stood up and after a very brief complement to all and sundry I suggested that the organic sector should not always feel that we have to answer the conversation of others. That indeed we are strongest when we work closely together. I said that I know we don’t always agree with each other on every detail which is as it must be but when we do come together on things we care about and have that conversation from a position of unity the strength of it shows us all in a very good light and is a very attractive thing to all who hear it. I must confess my words on the day were a little less poetic than I have just used here but were, I believe, equally succinct.

My message, my ‘take away’, from 2013 is that this year I aim to work very hard in looking at where and when we can all work better together. No one person, group or organisation is always right. We hold onto sacred cows at the peril of making unholy errors that can prove very costly for a long time to come. So, may 2014 be a kinder year, a year of more harmony and more rhythm across the organic and across all food and farming sectors.