The organic sector needs to change the way it engages with farmers, consumers and policy makers, according to one of the sector’s leading lights.
Roger Kerr, chief executive of organic licensing body OF&G, said organic farming offered major opportunities to businesses post-Brexit, but that too many years of criticising other production systems meant the sector had not received the positive attention it deserved.
He made his comments at an OF&G Conference on 3 July, adding that while organic production could deliver environmental and public goods, which should put it “at the heart of the mix” of post-Brexit farming policy discussions, it wasn’t been perceived in this way by policy makers and the wider agricultural sector.
“Part of that is because organic has become a loaded word,” he said. “We need to change things. We need to start engaging, sharing, and change the record if organic is to be part of the UK’s domestic agricultural policy.
“We also need to talk about ecological innovation alongside technical innovation, which is an area we haven’t really started to mine as far as government is concerned. We need to place organic in the centre of that to help drive that innovation.”
Photo Credit: Organic Farmers & Growers
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According to the latest Soil Association figures, the last year has seen steady growth in organic sales with sector outperforming non-organic products.
The Soil Association also says that the number of new products released with Soil Association Certification shows there is confidence in further growth in the sector.
The figures showed growth in the organic market of +3% in the 52 weeks to 15 August 2015, compared a fall in non-organic sales of -1.2% in the same period. Mike Watkins of Nielsen said, “To me it is clear that brands need to look for growth through new channels and to reach out to developing categories, such as alcoholic drinks, confectionary and snacks, that offer the opportunity to capture their customer and create loyalty. Products should be affordable, accessible and achievable.”
Speaking at the market briefing where the figures were unveiled, Clare McDermott, business development director at Soil Association Certification said, “The UK’s organic market is looking immensely positive for the future. Brands are releasing new lines and expanding their offerings to respond to food trends and demands.”
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The Soil Association and Bridgwater College’s Cannington Centre have teamed up to offer new modules in organic farming and horticulture within the college’s range of undergraduate qualifications.
Cannington’s Head of Land based provision, Jeremy Kerswell, said, “We have seen a growth in the demand for new sustainable farming practices from producers and growers, across our engagement with employers in agriculture and horticultural industries. This exciting partnership is vital to ensuring that the future needs of the industry are met.”
From September 2015, students on the Higher National Certificate in Horticulture will study organic principles and practices as a core module. The college will offer tailored intermediate and advanced level apprenticeships in organic agriculture and horticulture. The college is also developing a new module within the BSc Hons. in Agriculture focusing on organic principles and practices, to run from September 2016.
Both modules will feature speakers from the Soil Association as well as expert organic farmers and growers. The modules will also be available as stand-alone courses for people wanting to develop their knowledge of organic horticulture and agriculture.
Liz Bowles Head of Farming at the Soil Association added, “We are delighted to be working with Cannington to support the introduction of these new modules and qualifications in organic farming. These new qualifications will enable more young people to find out about organic farming practices and how they might apply them within their careers in the land based sector.”
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The UK’s largest organic certification body, Soil Association Certification, has appointed Martin Sawyer as its new chief executive to the organisation through the next phase of its development.
Martin has previously worked in management roles for Premier Foods, Bomfords Ltd, Oscar Mayer and Bakkavor, operating in corporate and private business environments in the UK and on mainland Europe.
Speaking about the new role, Martin Sawyer said; “I am looking forward to leading Soil Association Certification through the next phase – continuing to work hard to make organic accessible for everyone and growing our certification business in all areas across food, textiles, health and beauty and forestry products.
“I believe that everyone should have access to local, seasonal, affordable, healthy and organic food. I’m looking forward to working with an organisation that shares this vision. Soil Association schemes like the Catering Mark already show great success in providing over one million meals each day, making good food the norm in schools, hospitals, care homes and workplaces – all places where people have little food choice.”
Soil Association Certification is responsible for certifying over 70% of all organic products sold in the UK. It also certifies other schemes including the Food for Life Catering Mark and FSC and PEFC forestry standards.
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According to a recent report in The Telegraph, shoppers may be returning to buying organic food as household finances improve.
According to the Soil Association, shoppers are now spending an extra £1.4m a week on organic food, pushing sales up by 4 per cent to £1.86bn last year. In comparison, total food sales fell 1.9pc in 2014, as consumers reined in the weekly shop and spent more money on takeaways and eating out.
However, organic food still only accounts for 1.3 per cent of the total market. “Britain is still very much lagging behind the rest of the Europe and the US,” said Adam Wakeley, co-owner and managing director of Worcestershire-based The Ethical Fruit Company, who blamed retailer’s focus on low prices for a lack of support. “Retailers don’t give as much shelf space to organic foods over here. Organic is a premium product and tends to be more expensive – organic farmers produce less products than conventional farmers because they don’t use pesticides or any artificial fertilisers.”
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