Make it British organic on Pancake Day

It’s Pancake Day. The day we’re supposed to eat up all the goodies in preparation for Lent. Possibly you’ll try to stop eating chocolate or give up alcohol but perhaps more as a dietary or lifestyle choice than for religious reasons.  Good luck I hope you shed hose excess pounds.

There is a simple lifestyle choice you could make this Lent that could have genuine and long-term impacts for the better and it’s really simple.  Start asking if the organic flour, grains & pulses you’re buying are British grown. Ask at the supermarket, farmshop, wholefood shop even at your bakery – wherever you are buying your organic flour or grains.

Why is this important? It is hugely important because of the massive biodiversity benefits organic arable farming delivers.  All organic farming provides biodiversity benefits “On average, organic farming increased species richness by about 30%. This result has been  robust over the last 30 years of published studies and shows no sign of diminishing.”[1] But if we dig a little deeper we see that organic arable (cereal and pulse) production provides the greatest biodiversity benefit of all.

The same study highlights the greater benefits delivered by organic arable production.  The graph below indicates that organic arable land has approximately 40% on average greater biodiversity than conventional arable land.

Organic Arable acres provide highest biodiversity benefits.

Organic Arable acres provide highest biodiversity benefits.

Given this huge benefit that organic arable area delivers why as a buyer of organic flour for your pancakes would you not want to ensure that the wheat milled for your pancakes was grown in the UK and so the biodiversity benefits created could be enjoyed by you and your family and friends in Britain?

Buying imported wheat for your organic pancakes is effectively exporting this massive improvement in biodiversity which you are rarely ever likely to see.  Surely that’s a bit like giving up chocolate for Lent to loose a few pounds and then developing a penchant for fudge.

So this Lent make a positive change through your buying and ask for British grown organic flours and grains to ensure you get the full benefits of your organic purchase.

[1] Land-use intensity and the effects of organic farming on biodiversity: a hierarchical meta-analysis Sean L. Tuck1 *, Camilla Winqvist2 , Flavia Mota  3 , Johan Ahnstrom€ 2 , Lindsay A. Turnbull1,3† and Janne Bengtsson2† 1 Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3RB, UK; 2 Section for Landscape and Soil Ecology, Department of Ecology, SLU, Box 7044, Uppsala S-750 07, Sweden; and 3 Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich, Zurich 8057, Switzerland

Wheat Collage

British Organic Wheat

Win Tickets to NOCC ’15

We are delighted to once again be supporting the National Organic Combinable Crops 2015 run by Organic Farmers & Growers and are offering you the chance to win your ticket the event.  The competition is relatively straight forward.  Below are 2 pictures of organic products that were spotted adorning  a television programme and a catalogue respectively.  The challenge you have to meet is to identify the two brands.

All correct entries will go into a hat on 15th June and the first 10 will receive a free ticket to NOCC 15.  It couldn’t be simpler.

Good Luck!



Bugnot Shallow Plough Demonstration

Those who attended National Organic Cereals 2014 will have seen the Bugnot Rapide shallow plough.  Tomorrow is your opportunity to see it working as it will be ploughing at Shimpling Park Farm

This is a spur-of-the-moment,  informal farm visit and hence the short notice.  However, it will provide an opportunity to see a new and innovative piece of cultivation equipment in operation.  We will meet at in the farm yard at Shimpling Park Farm on 20th Aug (tomorrow) at 10.00.  Please click here for directions  

EU Regulation – a Wolf in Sheeps clothing

The EU have proposed changes to the EU regulation that governs the way organic agriculture is certified – the rules to which organic farmers and processors adhere.  The first question should be whether there is a need for a change?   Whilst not perfect the current regulation seems to work reasonably well.  The market is developing across Europe and the rest of the world and starting to recover in the UK.  There is a regular grumble about seed derogations but this is perhaps more to do with interpretation and implementation of the regulation that the regulation being at fault.  A significant piece of regulation with just one fault could be regarded as a success – so why change it?

The changes have been significantly influenced by a consultation exercise which was poorly promoted and the majority respondents were French organic consumers.  A discerning group no doubt with a fine food heritage but hardly the best constituent to determine the direction in which technical organic production intricacies should be pushed.  Their views perhaps represent an idealised view of what organic production should be and, perhaps, could be if the sector continues to grow and develop but I doubt they have little detailed understanding of how we might get from where we are now with the current regulation to their ideal position.

So what does the new regulation require?  Below is a response to many of the most important changes that will effect the organic grain sector in the UK and some reasons as to why we should not adopt these proposals and should fight to have see they are not implemented.  It is far from a comprehensive critique.

The new regulation:

  • will end the concept of “parallel production”.  This is the ability for farms to run both organic and conventional land at the same time.  Most of the larger organic cereal producers in the UK will have used a phased conversion to complete the conversion of their land without leading to significant problems of contamination of organic products.  Whilst some producers wish to maintain their conventional businesses alongside their organic ones for perfectly sound reasons such as landlord preference or simple risk management.  This does not mean these producers are in any way seeking to act outside the regulation and I believe we have the certification process in place to ensure such producers maintain high quality organic production systems.
  • reduces the quantity of inconversion grain which may be fed to 15%.  This will reduce the demand for inconversion cereals and make the costs of organic conversion greater.  Both this and the measure above will reduce enthusiasm for additional conversion to organic production.
  • will end all “exceptional acts” or derogations as we know them.  This would effectively end the ability for organic growers to use non-organic untreated seed.  Without robust seed production systems this makes organic arable systems less robust when faced with a poor quality harvest.  Such an idea may have merit if it led to the development of varieties truly suited to organic productions systems but the size of the sector means this is very unlikely as the investment in the breeding would not be recovered.
  • require that all feed (60% for monogastrics) come from the holding of livestock production or within the region.  The “region” remains undefined but seems hugely problematic unless the definition means the “region” is so large to the point it is simply meaningless.  Whilst a greater focus on UK production is welcome this measure would send such massive shock-waves through the industry it seems likely that operators in the livestock sector would decertify and the sector shrink significantly.  Perhaps then rather than importing grain form less well regulated Black Sea sources we would simply import livestock products.  Is this really the intended consequence the EU seeks?
  • require decertification of produce that tests positive even if the contamination is not the fault of the producer.  This is the inversion of “innocent until proven guilty”.  A positive test could lead to product decertification regardless of the cause of the problem.  The response to this would be the introduction of greater testing through the supply chain at huge cost.  In the arable sector the UK producer base has tiny instances of contamination coming from farm.  The more problematic supply chains whether fraudulent or adventitious are those abroad and particularly outside the EU.

Other organisations will have varied and compelling arguments as to the effect on the proposals in their sectors.  The policy-heads at Organic Research Centre and the certifiers have concerns about the way in which the new proposals will be implemented and the structure of the decision making process with the EU bureaucracy.  These are also valid criticisms if they make the process less open and difficult to influence by operators and stakeholders.

The consumer responses to the consultation have given the EU a position of championing the consumer and their wishes but the task of political leadership is surely to balance these wishes with the multiple concerns and needs of the operators within the sector.  These proposals have an unbalanced basis and have not been well considered as the seems to be little thought or regard been paid to the consequences that may result.

Please take every opportunity you have to oppose the changes the EU is suggesting and support industry bodies in their opposition.

Whites Eastern Organic Oat Group Farm Walk

We are meeting on 26th June at 10.00 (until about 13.00) at Hammonds End Farm to have a farm walk to look at the effect, if any, of the application of Maxicrop. which Howard has been using on his oats (and other crops) this year. Maxicrop is claimed to stimulate chlorophyll production in the leaf, stimulate soil biological activity and  and reduce stress experienced by plants.

brix testerWe will have a look at a Brix test to assess the difference in the nutrient levels in the leaves which may give us some indication as to whether the Maxicrop has had any effect.  Ultimately the test will be the quality of the grain that is produced but hopefully some simple assessments at the field lefel can help us all understand how close we are to achieving the goal of better grain quality.

Please let Kathy know if you are coming on 08456 521 706


How do you match up as an organic farmer?

We have been running some organic benchmarking with a  small group of arable producers and now have 5 year’s data.  There are some interesting details which come out of this exercise to do with long terms trends.  It might be of interest for you to think about how your farming business compares? From a marketing perspective it gives some very clear information about the levels that are required in order to provide for a sustainable business.

The headline statistics:

  • It costs about £1050 – £1100 per ha to grow an organic cereal crop but beans are a bit cheaper
  • Average wheat yield was 4.29 t / Ha and for beans it was 2.63 t/Ha
  • There was a 3.01 t/Ha spread between the highest yielding year for wheat and the lowest.  For beans the spread was 3.16 t/Ha

So how can we use this information?  Firstly, as a farming business you can use some of this data as a point of comparison to see how your cereal production measures up and this can then lead to questions as to where and why the differences occur.  We can also use it to look at the longer term sustainability of markets.  If we know the average cost of production per Ha and the average yield we know where the market need to be in order to provide a profitable return to the farmer.  The data would put this figure at in the mid £240’s which is above most sales from the 2013 harvest.

With conventional feed grains trading at about £150 for November 2014 we need a premium closer to £100 per tonne than looks likely at present.  Perhaps a fair price for organic grain should be a £100 premium over the conventional ex farm value?

The data also shows that beans should have  a premium of about £100 per tonne over the organic cereal price.  This level is rarely achievable.

This work has come about through the work undertaken with the farmers supplying BQP with feed wheat, feed barley and beans.  This is a market that is seeking to maximise the tonnage of UK grown feed grains fed to pigs.  It is  known market to grow for and has been a successful venture for the farmers currently supplying it.  If you would like to get involved with this group and grow for a known, secure market please contact us on 08456 521 706


ORC Producer Conference Reflections

I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with colleagues and friends at Organic Research Centre’s Annual Producer Conference in January.  It was once again a mix of thought provoking strategic plenary sessions and some detailed technical workshops.

Two of these were aimed at the arable producer with the aim of “closing the productivity gap” to help organic farmers increase yields.  The first session organised by, Newcastle University was looking at fertility and the second, organised by Organic Arable at weed control.


This session was organised by the team at Newcastle University who reported their work at the organic unit at Nafferton and there were presentations by Daniel Seaborne from Holme Lacy College and Johen Mayer from the Swiss research organisation, Agroscope.

At Nafferton they have trials managed organically  (using clover leys and a full rotation) but that are on conventional land which allows them to add mineral fertilisers to examine the how nitrogen deficit effects grain yields.

To introduce the session Julia Cooper put organic yields into a global context and reported that, globally organic cereal yields are approximately 25% below those of conventional farmers and the work  showed that for the most recent 4 year average yield data at Nafferton would concur with this.  However in 2011 they saw a yield reduction of just 11%.  The reason for this yield improvement in 2011 is not understood.

The work Jochen conducts is known as the DOK trial.  This is a long term trial comparing organic and conventional systems.  On some plots organic manures are applied to replicate livestock manure deposition which allows theoretical comparisons between mixed and stockless farming systems.  This again concurs with Naffeton and the wider global organic yields deficits of about 25% on  conventional yields.  At DOK in trials where additional N is applied to organic plots this yield is deficit is reduced to about 10%.  This indicates what we know that N is a significant factor in improving organic yields.  A further interesting comment was that when nitrogen supply was improved this provided additional yield rather than higher protein levels.

At Nafferton on the “organic” plots on conventional land on which ammonium nitrate was added to boost nitrogen availability the yield deficit to conventional dropped to about 10% and if the red clover fertility build was increased from 2 to 3 years yields again achieved a similar level to this “modelled” conventional nitrogen input level.

From this I took two messages.  The first is that it is possible to achieve a 25% yield deficit when growing organic cereals (I would suggest most UK producers work on a yield deficit of 40 – 50%) and that this can be reduced to just 10-15% if nitrogen supply can be improved.   This would suggest that as organic farmers we have huge potential ahead of us as a yield improvement of perhaps 50% above where we are today is achievable.

The second being that it is perhaps easier to chase yield and so improve output than seek higher values high protein wheat.  However the market

Weed Management

The weed control session enjoyed contributions from William Hudson, Ken Tuffin and Bo Melander.  These were 3 very different presentations.  Ken reported the work he is doing using a 6m flame-weeder to help manage post emergence weeds in his seed crops.  Ken’s presentation is available here. This is work in progress as he seeks to establish the viability of the approach given the cost of fuel and the slow working speeds.

William Hudson spoke about his experiences through the 2013 season working with the innovative CombCut weeder.

By his own admission the equipment struggled in a tough season as the work really started too late in the season when the weeds were too well established.  Hopefully spring 2014 will be more successful and we will be able to judge better the potential for this machine.

Bo Melander is a Associate Professor at Aarhus University in Denmark.  He has been working on the HiCrop project out there.  This project has been looking at the key factors that reduce incidence of perennial weeds.

Bo recommended:

  • mapping weeds on your farm to understand the worst problems
  • ensuring soils surfaces are level following cultivation and drilling to ensure following actions are successful
  • diversifying crop ration sequences to provide maximum weed control opportunities through the season
  • intensive cultivation including powered implements repeated regularly.  Soil structure will be effected and needs consideration.

If perennial weeds such as couch or creeping thistle average move than 1 incidence per M2 when mapping the field actions should be taken to reduce weed burdens even at the expense of crop yield to help ensure weed control.   The most effective technique is summer fallowing but this is the most extreme measure.  The next best approach is intensive summer cultivation following harvest followed by a short term green manure.

View Bo Melander’s presentation.

Both of these presentations had useful technical information for organic growers to consider and potentially apply to their farming systems.  Alongside this the conference is an excellent opportunity to network and discuss farming matters with fellow organic farmers and growers and meet processors and researchers.  It should be a “must attend” for all.


Pearce Seeds Organic Open Day

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Pearce Seeds Organic Variety Trails Event

Pearce Seeds are continually looking to improve varietal choice and agronomic procedures within the organic seed industry and have been involved with growing and producing organic seed since 2001.  On Tuesday June 3rd 2014 they are holding an Organic Open Day near Sturminster Newton, Dorset.  There is a varied programme for the event with the programme being repeated in both morning and afternoon with lunch provided.

The event will be an opportunity to look at cereal varietal choices with emphasis on regional suitability and in addition there are some demonstrations of the weed control techniques discussed at the Organic Producer Conference back in January and in our blog piece ORC Conference Reflections.  These demonstrations are of weed control through raking, a gas burner and a CombCut machine and there will be an opportunity to discuss what you have seen.   They are also offering the opportunity to look at organic vegetable production.

Finally, in a full programme there will be a presentation by Peter Melchett – Policy director with the Soil Association on the future of organic farming.

To book your place click here of or more information please contact:

Cass Sandy on 01935 389226 or


Children’s Diets Too Salty

Another great reason to bake your own bread and control salt and sugar levels!

Check out this article from