Changing the future of food and farming

Our story

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.  

Our founder, David Astor started to think about how farmers would grow food without the dependence on oil and the use of finite resources as early as 1974. His research led him to explore organic agriculture as a solution but despite desperately searching, he could not find practical advice as to how to farm organically in the UK.  

This quest led him to European research institutes, and he started to recognise 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.

Timeline

1980

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

1983

Launched first soil analysis system specifically designed for organic farmers

1984

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

1985

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

1985

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

1986

First stockless arable research trial established – ran for 11 years

1990

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

1992

First EFRC Bulletin sent out

1993

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

1994

Established and managed the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative

1995

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

1996

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

1998

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

2001

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

2001

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

2001/2002

Pioneering work on evolutionary plant breeding with wheat populations begins

2005

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

2006

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

2006

First ORC Organic Producer Conference

2009

Nic Lampkin succeeds Lawrence Woodward as Director of ORC

2009

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

2010

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

2012

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

2014

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.

2015

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

2015

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

2016

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.

2017

Publication of ‘Towards Farmer Principles of health’

2018

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

2020

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

2020

Lucy MacLennan appointed CEO

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