Our story

We are a small charity, yet we are the UK’s leading independent research organisation for agroecological farming approaches such as organic and agroforestry; we drive our own research agenda to tackle global issues by acting locally and finding community-based solutions for farmers and their supply chains.

It has never been more important to achieve our common goal of mitigating climate change, protecting the natural environment, and enhancing biodiversity.

Discover the history of the Organic Research Centre below. Here’s how it all started over 40 years ago.

The Organic Research Centre was born out of crisis

In the 1970s the major global political issue was the oil crisis. Oil and natural gas are major raw materials in agriculture – not only as fuel but also the energy for fertiliser manufacture and in agrochemical production where it is the source ‘ingredient’ for pesticides.  

As early as 1974, our founder, David Astor, started to think about how farmers could grow food without being dependent on oil and other finite resources.  Working with Lawrence Woodward (who became our first CEO), their research led them to explore organic agriculture as a solution. However, despite searching everywhere, they could not find any practical advice on farming organically in the UK.      

This quest led them to European research institutes, and a pivotal meeting and association with Prof Hardy Vogtmann, who the University of Kassel had just  appointed the world’s first University Chair in Organic Agriculture. Together they  recognised the need for organic farming research and advice in the context of UK agriculture – and so the Organic Research Centre was born. The crisis of the time, finite reserves of fossil fuels remains with us, but the imperative to develop better food and farming systems is now greater than ever with climate change, wildlife collapse, declining phosphate reserves, intensification of livestock and human health issues all urgently needing to be addressed.

The Organic Research Centre (ORC) is the UK’s leading, independent, research charity working for better farming, food and health, promoting environmental sustainability, quality food and health and wellbeing for all.  

Based on organic and agro-ecological principles we work in the UK and internationally to research and develop practical, sustainable land management and food production systems. In addition, we work to foster knowledge exchange with (and between) current and future producers, food businesses and related professionals. This in turn is used to influence policy and public debates on the future of food and farming based on sound evidence.  

The Organic Research Centre timeline

We launched as The Elm Farm Research Centre in 1980. Here’s a whistlestop tour of what happened next.



The Progressive Farming Trust was established as an educational charity, with a focus on development and promotion of organic agriculture.Moved to Elm Farm, a 237 acre farm near Newbury in Berkshire.The Elm Farm Research Centre (EFRC) was founded


Launched first soil analysis system specifically designed for organic farmers


HRH the Prince Charles visits Elm Farm. Following this, EFRC advised Duchy Home Farm at Highgrove on their conversion to organic


Organic Advisory Service launched (first service in UK). Conversion planning process developed for organic farmers


Worked with Soil Association standards committee to keep BSE cohort animals out of certified organic herds in UK


First stockless arable research trial established – ran for 11 years


Played a major role in the organic movement’s opposition to genetic engineering. One of the first international organic bodies, and the first in the UK to oppose GM


First EFRC Bulletin sent out


Introduced the idea of on-farm composting of household waste to the UK


Established and managed the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative


Produced the first edition of the Organic Farm Management Handbook with University of Wales, Aberystwyth


Launch of the government-funded Organic Conversion Information Service (closed in 2011)


Professor Martin Wolfe appointed as Research Director (from 2009: Principal Scientific Adviser. Started to work with Wakelyns Agroforestry as a trial site.


EFRC initiated the first opposition to the slaughter only policy during the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak, developing the case for vaccination and its uptake in post-outbreak policies


Lawrence Woodward, EFRC’s Director and co-founder given OBE in recognition of his services to organic farming


Pioneering work on evolutionary plant breeding with wheat populations begins


The Institute of Organic Training and Advice (IOTA), a professional body for UK and Irish trainers, advisers and other extension workers involved in organic food and farming was developed with support and funding from ADAS, Organic Research Centre- Elm Farm, Organic Centre Wales and Soil Association


Elm Farm Research Centre became The Organic Research Centre – Elm Farm


First ORC Organic Producer Conference


Nic Lampkin succeeds Lawrence Woodward as Director of ORC


Conversion of farm buildings to offices and conference centre at Elm Farm completed


Launch of intern programme as part of the College of the Atlantic transatlantic programme


Duchy Future Farming Programme launched  (later became Innovative Farmers), in conjunction with Soil Association and Waitrose Duchy Originals


From trials completed over the previous decade we were able to convince EU officials that the benefits of the population approach should be evaluated through test marketing at the European level. As a result EU law was changed to allow a trial period for marketing ‘varieties’ (populations) that do not fit the normal rules and regulations.


Launch of ORC Wakelyns Population, a hugely diverse population of wheat suited to organic and low-input farming systems.


Agricology launched as a website to provide advice and guidance on agroecological practices to farmers (conventional and organic) regardless of labels


Nic Lampkin Director of the Organic Research Centre near Newbury, and Mark Measures, Director of IOTA (a Division of ORC) recognised for their contribution to UK agriculture by the award of Associateship of the Royal Agricultural Societies.


Publication of ‘Towards Farmer Principles of health’


ORC host UK Organic Congress with LWA, OGA, OF&G, OTB and Organic Arable.


Relocated to Cirencester (sale of Elm Farm). Celebrated our fortieth birthday.


Lucy MacLennan appointed CEO

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