Waitrose-sponsored organic producers’ conference takes on challenge of helping producers with science-based approach to agroecological innovation
Food security, sustainable intensification and innovation are all hot topics in current farming debates, but the GM technology and corporate interest agenda dominant at the recent Oxford Farming Conference is not the only way to deliver them. This year’s sell-out Organic Producers’ Conference, to be held at Aston University, Birmingham, on 22-23 January, will showcase the latest organic/agroecological research and champion the cause for a bottom-up, producer-led innovation model that focuses on real needs and practical solutions.
In some circles, a top-down, patentable technology-driven approach to innovation led by large corporations and research institutes is seen to offer the only solutions to the challenges currently facing agriculture.
This conference will challenge the idea that technological innovation is only about patentable products such as GM crops and high-tech inputs. Innovation is also about working with ecological knowledge to design self-reliant production systems, less dependent on external inputs and more resilient to shocks when the availability of those inputs is restricted.
This conference will focus on the huge potential in supporting producers to explore their own creative ideas, through a participatory approach to innovation, where researchers and advisers facilitate rather than dominate the process.
John Pawsey, a leading organic arable producer, said: ‘I never fail to get something out of the conference, be it from the hugely practical workshops or just chatting in the bar to other farmers and industry partners. I always come home stimulated looking forward to getting on with the new year and putting my new found knowledge into action. I never miss it.’
The conference will also look at how individual producers and businesses are facing up to the challenges of producing sufficient food sustainably, and the real contribution that organic and other agro-ecological approaches can make to food security and sustainable intensification.
Nic Lampkin, Director of the Organic Research Centre organising the conference, said: ‘With nearly 250 participants and more than 60 speakers, including producers, advisers, researchers and others, engaging in more than 25 workshops, the conference demonstrates the energy and confidence of this movement for change in agriculture. The last few years have been tough for the organic sector in market terms, but there is still real potential to deliver what the public want.’
Topics to be explored at the conference include: reduced tillage without herbicides; alternative approaches to plant breeding, improving the biodiversity, climate change and soil fertility impacts of grassland systems; the financial aspects of organic management and CAP reform developments. The full programme is available on-line.
The conference’s focus on producer-led innovation is closely linked to the Duchy Originals Future Farming Programme, which aims to support producer innovation through access to field labs highlighting research and farmer experimentation in practice as well as improved dissemination of relevant research results.
Waitrose, which funds the Future Farming Programme through its Duchy Originals organic brand in association with the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation, is a lead sponsor of the conference.
A Waitrose spokesperson said: ‘At Waitrose we believe that organic produce is a key part of our offer to customers – which is why we’re so proud of our Duchy Originals from Waitrose brand. That’s also why we’re proud to be supporting the ORC Conference in bringing together organic stakeholders to share best practice and help drive forward this valuable arm of UK agriculture and food processing.’
As part of this process, the Organic Research Centre’s Participatory Research Network will be organising a series of workshops to help producers crystallize project ideas and identify potential research partners and funding sources.
There is huge potential in producers’ leading the development of innovative ideas and systems to help meet the challenge of feeding our growing population. This conference, where organic and other producers interested in ecological approaches to sustainable food production come together with researchers and advisers to share ideas on making agriculture perform better, for businesses and society, will give them a voice.
(Notes for Editors follow on next page)
Notes for Editors
The Organic Research Centre based at Elm Farm near Newbury is the UK’s leading independent research centre dedicated to the development of sustainable food systems based on organic/agro-ecological principles. Further information on our activities can be found at www.organicresearchcentre.com
This series of Organic Producers’ Conferences was initiated at the end of 2006 with financial support from Defra and the EU for the Organic Inform project. Since 2010, the conference has been self-financing and attracts 200+ participants annually. Further details can be found following the links from our website homepage.
John Pawsey is a large-scale stockless organic arable farmer in Suffolk who will be speaking in the Opening Plenary about the challenges and rewards of being organic. For further info see http://johnpawsey.blogspot.co.uk/
Further information about this year’s conference can be obtained from Nic Lampkin (mobile phone during conference: 07771961279) or Roger Hitchings (mobile: 07980 579444). Press passes will be available for the conference – if you would like to attend, please contact Liz Adams.
The Duchy Originals Future Farming Programme is funded by the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation in association with Waitrose and its leading Duchy Originals organic brand. The programme is led by the Soil Association with Organic Research Centre as the lead research partner. Further information on this and Waitrose sponsorship of the conference can be obtained from John Gregson, Senior Manager Communications and Public Affairs, Waitrose. Phone: 01344 824573 or 825080; Blackberry: 07525 271618; E-mail: John_Gregson@waitrose.co.uk
Other conference sponsors include Triodos Bank, Graig Producers, Woodland Trust, Organic Growers Alliance, Dove’s Farm and Abbey Home Farm Organic Farm Shop.