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Sparks set to fly in organic vs non-organic debate

Date Published: 26/04/2012

The organic versus non-organic farming argument will be put under the spotlight at a special debate featuring high profile farmers and sector representatives.

The event is to be held at the renowned Harper Adams University College, in Shropshire, and has been driven by student, Imogen Radford, who first raised her concerns about a perceived divide in education between the two approaches to agriculture in front of delegates at the 2011 National Organic Cereals event.

From there she has gone on to pull together key players in both approaches to farming with the aim of thrashing out the issues in front of an audience, which will take place on the evening of May 3.

The debate will be chaired by Richard Jacobs, the chief executive of organic control body, Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G), which has its national headquarters in Shrewsbury and which has supported Imogen’s idea since she made her concerns felt at National Organic Cereals – an OF&G-organised annual event which was held in Cambridgeshire in 2011.

Taking their places on the discussion panel will be: Tim Perrett, senior producer advisor at the Soil Association; Jo Franklin, a non-organic farmer, 2006 Harper Adams student and Nuffield Scholar; Rob Alderson, non-organic farmer and Shropshire NFU county chairman; Mike Radford, a Cambridgeshire organic arable and cattle farmer (and Imogen’s father); Oliver Surman, of Surman’s Farm and the Pegoty Hedge Partnership, an organic farmer and food manufacturer, owner of the Pegoty Hedge brand.

Imogen, who is in her second year of a BSc (Hons) in Agriculture, said: “One of the panel members at National Organic Cereals said they thought that general opinions on organic farming had improved, but I disagreed with that because I feel that there is no equality in the teaching of both sectors and young farmers are leaving education with biased and often uninformed views of organic methods. I strongly believe both conventional and organic farming practices should be taught in order to give students the opportunity to build well rounded views on the two sectors.

“I’m grateful to everyone who has agreed to take part and to Harper Adams University College for supporting us in staging the debate. I fully expect some sparks to fly, but it will all be in the cause of healthy discourse!”

Richard Jacobs added: “Imogen struck a chord when she first raised this issue in front of more than 200 speakers and industry experts at National Organic Cereals. We said then that we would support her in attempting to address the perceived divide between organic and non-organic farming and this is the result, which is a very intriguing prospect.

“At Organic Farmers & Growers we operate very much from the philosophy of being believers in the excellence of all UK farming, but we work with and support organic farmers and we firmly believe in the wide array of benefits the sector has to offer. As I chair the discussion I will be very pleased to ensure that all sides have a fair say because that’s how we advance everyone’s understanding. It’s going to be interesting!”

The debate takes place in the Regional Food Academy building at Harper Adams University College, Edgmond, near Newport, Shropshire, on May 3, from 7pm. Everyone is welcome and there is no requirement to book in advance.