Organic Articles: Who Wants To Be An Organic Farmer?

The Organic Consultancy

Who Wants To Be An Organic Farmer?

Simon Wright
The Organic Consultancy

This article originally appeared in the March 2002 edition of Organic Business.

It’s quiz time!

“At the Soil Association Conference in Harrogate which speaker said ‘Organic farming is a key and essential component of the food industry’. Was it:
A. Patrick Holden, Director of the Soil Association?
B. Lawrence Woodward OBE, Director of Elm Farm Research?
C. Michael Meacher, Minister for the Environment?”

Amazingly the answer is C. Here’s another one for you:

“How does the Tony Blair endorsed-Farming and Food Report refer to organic farming:
A. ‘We welcome the growth in the organic farming sector and would like to see this further encouraged’?
B. ‘We believe that ongoing support for organic farming – targetted on its environmental benefits – is justified’?
C. ‘We recommend the development of a strategy for organic food production’? ”

Answer – it’s a trick question, all three are correct !

What is going on? The government has finally realised that by supporting UK organic food production it can simultaneously support more popular, less intensive agricultural systems and encourage organic import substitution. Turning this fine rhetoric into action involves Meacher and Margaret Beckett persuading Gordon Brown that money spent in this area would be good for UK plc and (crucially) popular with voters. For the first time in my 16 years with organics the government appears to be aligned with popular opinion. So have we won? Not yet. Organic food is still a fragile 2-3% of UK total food sales. Organic standards continue to create controversy. We have over-supply in crucial market sectors such as organic milk. And imports are running at 70%. So we still have far to go, but with Government support we can get there quicker.

PS The other memorable quote from Harrogate was made by Kate Fish, Vice President for Public Policy at Monsanto, who enlivened a dreary non-debate on Global versus Local with the assertion that “in genetic terms we are 35% lettuce”. Expect a big marketing push on GM aimed at The Green Consumer…