Organic Arable Members' Meeting 2023

Taking place once again at The Great Barn, Aynho, on a beautiful sunny, crisp Autumn Day, the type that makes you feel good to be alive, we enjoyed positive discussions about the challenges and opportunities ahead for the Organic arable sector and Organic Arable as a business.

Firstly, a huge thank you to those who came along to our meeting and to those who contributed.  It was an optimistic day with some good news about market growth  -not rapid but after the challenges of the last 18 months -very welcome, positive reflections on how Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) can be used to support organic farmers (even if the administration can be challenging), and how our research work is delivering better understanding of how varieties perform under organic conditions


Andrew gave a brief summary of the Organic Arable year and some market updates that are available in this clip.

Stonegate presented their need for more locations on which to house their layer flocks as they see demand starting to grow.  This was an enthusiastic offering, with some members keen to discuss further. Of course the offer of poultry units would hopefully be accompanied by a reciprocal offer to buy grain through us so creating a mutually beneficial relationship for all. We would be happy to put anyone in touch with Stonegate who wasn't in attendance on the day.

James Mather from White's Oats provided an update on their business.  It is notable that he is very supportive of the carbon foot printing work being undertaken as they have an agenda to better understand he sustainability of their supply chains.  James was also positive about the current market as they are seeing some growth in sales again after a difficult period.  He presented data showing that globally oat production is falling and so was keen to reinforce the benefits White's see in having a known supply base.  He also agreed that their sales of Kavanagh brand oats through Lidl had been a very important line for them through the last year or so helping to support falling sales through other outlets.

We broke for lunch before delving into a strategy session run by Tim May and John Pawsey. The food and chance to connect with each other was well received although one very welcome suggestion was that we try to use food from out members at the next meeting, and at the very least to source organic options. We will try to work with the venue to deliver this next year.

The strategy session went well with enthusiasm from John and Tim. We're starting to get a much better picture of the Organic Arable “brand” and how we sell ourselves and our activities. We were asked if we aim to grow market share of the organic grain trade, which has never been a particular focus. We are a small player and aim to deliver quality over quantity, especially given the size of the business, that we're risk averse and that we don't have the balance sheet to be more aggressive in the market. John made the point that we offer a lot more over others in the market who focus all resources on buying grain. Tim suggested a barometer of success could be the proportion of the market supplied by OA grain. John Newman expressed an important point, that the aim of the business has always been to support our members rather than increase market share. It was questioned whether we were high profile enough and that a higher market share would give us a greater leverage with buyers. Another member made the point that there is an opportunity to build a real sense of  community amongst the membership and this is something we should focus on. One really good suggestion was to include farm profiles in the newsletter which is something we plan to implement starting in January. Another comment centred on the need for Agronomy support for organic farming, particularly in the early days during and post conversion. This was a helpful session that will really help guide the direction of the business and we're grateful  to all who contributed. If anyone not in attendance has any comments or suggestions please get in touch as we'd love to hear from you.

One of the themes that arose from this discussion was "Community" and how we make Organic Arable members feel closer and as if there is a greater sense of togetherness.  We are aware that farming organically can be a isolated place within your local farming neighbours and perhaps as organic farming is less talked about these days the feeling of being "on ones own" has become greater.  One attendee suggested having profiles of every member would be useful to better understand who else as in the group and how they farm. The Organic Arable team have noted this and will work on better developing the Organic Arable community though 2024.  One of the initial ideas we had was to answer an "Agronomy Question of the Week" whereby you post your questions and we'll seek to answer them and ask other members to do so.

Dominic gave a simple overview of the trials work this season, with highlights including the identification of Mayflower as a useful variety for Organic in terms of it's weed suppressive ability and it's good yields, and as a blend with Extase, potential of Zenith and Timpani to offer spring oat alternatives, and the possible weed suppression of Victus spring bean relative to other cultivars. Below you can find an overview of Dominic's presentation.



Dom provided an overview of the results of the winter wheat, spring oat and bean trials that we've run this year. 


The SFI session was very interesting.  Adrian Steele gave some insights his discussions with Defra and RPA and provided some feedback on the SFI application process and sought to unpick some of the application challenges that those who have tried to apply have experienced.

We also heard from Mark Lea and Tim May both of whom have put in application but taken a very different approach.  Mark has applied for options from both SFI and Mid Tier Countryside Stewardship and is using as many options that easily fit his current practice.  He's not changing his system to undertake additional options but applying options that fit with what he is doing.  Tim is using SFI to change his system.  Taking some land out of production and putting into the Legume Fallow option which will provide improved cashflow and require less input allowing him to spend more time with his young family.  Hearing from Mark and Tim about the different ways SFI can be used was helpful and there was plenty of discussion.

We ended with a final thought from John Pawsey.  He encouraged us that we should be proud as Organic farmers to be farming in a way that is regenerative, and that helps in addressing the climate crisis, biodiversity crisis, and producing healthy, nutritious food.

Proud to Be and Organic Farmer

We produced some "Proud to be an Organic Farmer T-Shirts a year or so ago and if you'd like one (for a small fee) we could get some more printed and sent out.  Please send Kathy your chest measurement and we'll take it from there.

I'd like to order a shirt