Diversity in crop production

ORC Farmer and Business Supporters’ Group 3rd Annual Gathering

ORC Farmer and Business Supporters’ Group 3rd Annual Gathering

In September FABS members came together at Bradwell Grove Farms in the Cotswolds with a focus on the theme of diversity and quality in organic crop production.

Farm manager Charles Hunter-Smart hosted the farm tour which included trials as part of an Innovative Farmers field lab on Anaerobic digestate application to organic arable crops. The business, which has been organic since 2005, includes arable crops, a beef suckler herd and a joint sheep enterprise. Charles has embedded diversity in his system with multi-mixture leys, which have been adapted over time.

After a hearty lunch at the Cotswold Wildlife Park, workshops were held on areas of our work that are focused on diversity, followed up by identification of priority areas for future work.

Breeding, variety trials and seed production

ORC is working on a number of projects in this area including DIVERSIFOOD, LIVESEED, EVOLIENCE and WHEALBI. Ideas that came up included:

  • An organic seed round table. Would be good to bring all interested partners together to debate issues around varieties and agree a way forward.
  • Lack of availability/choice in some crops e.g. only one rye variety available as organic seed.
  • Reliable data is needed on yields/quality and agronomic performance. Variety trialling is needed, but also better use of the recommended lists, as there seems to be a mismatch between varieties that potentially perform well in organic systems (e.g. disease resistance, ground cover) and what is multiplied as an organic seed crop (e.g. the potential of Spyder wheat for organic systems), particularly for those needing larger quantities.
  • Problems of disease in some crops e.g. fusarium and bunt in farm-saved seed – how do we deal with it?
  • Can bakers make do with lower protein levels?

In-field diversity including cropping systems, soils and fertility

ORC projects active in this area include DIVERIMPACTS, DIVERSify and Innovative Farmers field labs.

  • Several farmers in the group are using diverse leys, which could be monitored, if funding available.
  • Research is needed on varieties and best species combinations.
  • Interest in agroforestry in organic arable rotations.
  • What are the links between fertility and yields and yields and profitability?

Knowledge exchange

ORC is very active in knowledge exchange, through Agricology, IOTA and through our publications, conferences and events. But could we do more?

  • Gaps in advisory provision were identified including agroforestry, agroecology, organic and mob-grazing. Would a subscription-based service such as a technical helpline be used/viable?
  • Staff training for those employed in organic businesses is needed.
  • More targeted workshops presenting project results


The concluding session consisted of an update from ORC Director Nic Lampkin on policy developments, including the English Organic Action Plan.

Find out more about our Farmer and Business Supporters Group here

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