What can Organic Arable offer Consumers?
As an organic grain producer and marketing group our main role is finding sales of our farmers' grain. Working on our farmers' behalf to find the appropriate market and best value for they grains they have harvested and developing market opportunities for them. We are selling predominantly to feed mills and flour and oat mills or farmers wanting grain to feed and so we are predominantly a B2B operator.
Alongside this, we work with English Organic Forum and IFOAM EU to discuss and help formulate policy and with the Organic Trade Board to help with market development and so our role is wider than a traditional merchant. As we are a wholly-organic grain business it is in our DNA that the organic sector grows and develops.
So how can we interact with consumers who buy these products?
There are a number of ways in which we can and should be working with consumer, putting across the farmer's perspective and informing consumers about our experience of the organic cereal marketplace. Working with about 60 farmers we have a huge amount of experience within our business of all things organic arable and we'd love to help consumers discover and understand more about the products they buy and love.
When you eat a carrot it looks pretty much how it was when it was growing but cereals are very different. How does a field of waving grain become a bowl of porridge or a pint of beer. How do you identify what each grain looks like? Perhaps you hear talk of corn and wonder what corn actually is?*
Do you want to know more about how organic grains are grown? How organic farmers manage weeds without herbicides or the new technology being used in their place? We'd love to help.
Perhaps you'd like to know which brands we supply and who is buying UK grown grains for their products? Just ask so we can have that conversation and you can learn more about the food you eat.
What you should know about us
As we only work with organic grain we are dedicated to the success and development of the organic sector. We are independent, not owned by a multinational corporation and in terms of the grain markets could be described as artisanal - as we value that we know the farmers we are working with, know their farms and because we understand organic farming systems we value their hard work in growing the food we all enjoy.
We see ourselves as working on behalf of our organic farmers and seeking to support them. A key difference in our approach is we are transparent about what we charge so that both farmer and buyer know our margin.
This is important as it makes clear the costs of working with us and in this way allows us to develop long term arrangements. Knowing the price of grain in 2 years time is impossible but it is possible to formulate a pricing strategy with which both buyer and seller are happy. If everyone knows are margin we can allow buyer and seller to meet and discuss the challenges and opportunities they both foresee and jointly work together for mutual benefit.
Unlike the conventional grain market there is no way for farmers to find out the market price for grain. This means farmers are at a disadvantage in the marketplace as the "trade" have first knowledge of organic grain prices and can use this information to their advantage. This allows some traders to make very large margins at the expense of farmers - we don't treat our members in this way. We pay them the market price less our commission.
We do not operate to to deliver shareholder value and have never paid our shareholders a dividend. Instead, each year, we budget to give about 25% of our profit to support research work into the organic cereal sector to help improve organic farming techniques. By working with us brands and retailers are also supporting this research work. In 2020 we are supporting the Innovative Farmers "Living Mulch" field lab.
We work with UK farmers. Whilst we don't see a problem with imported grain it should be used to supplement UK supplies when these are insufficient. Currently most of the animal feed in the UK is imported as is most of the milling wheat which limits opportunities for domestic farmers. Oats for human consumption are mostly grown domestically.
Why is supporting domestic production important?
One of the key reasons for purchasing organic grains for UK consumers is to avoid exposure to pesticides and pay premiums to achieve this. Most of the organic grain that we import into the UK comes from Russia and the Black Sea region and there have been several incidence of significant fraud exposed in supply chains from this region, most easily understood through this Washington Post investigation.
Such fraud damages the organic producers in these countries as well as those in the UK and also exposes consumers to the risk of pesticides they were seeking to avoid.
Other consumers buy organic food to support better biodiversity and understanding how organic farming both protects and enhances natural systems. Indeed "Organic farming results in around 30% higher biodiversity compared to conventional farming" according to Swedish research published recently. If grain is imported whether used as animal feed or for human consumption these benefits are lost to the UK landscape. As importantly if grains are imported your ability to know and learn about the productions systems and individuals growing your food is lost.
Our transparent farmer-focussed approach, seeking to improve transparency along the supply chain is one that you, as an organic consumer will hopefully support? We'd love to have this discussion and learn more about how you want organic businesses to operate. We'd like to be able to share our experience and knowledge with you to really join up supply chains from producer to consumer. To achieve these ambitions we need you to play your part. To be an inquisitive consumer and to ask how the grain that feeds the cows that produce your milk is sourced? Whether the flour you're baking with is milled from UK grains or imported?
You are as Wendell Berry's put it part of the farming process and so we welcome you, fellow farmers, to join to develop the organic sector one loaf of bread and bowl of porridge at a time.
* Corn is what Americans (and others) use to describe what we'd call maize. In the UK the common usage of "corn" refers to all cereal crops with no distinction between wheat, barley, oats etc.