2 July 1999

RECAPTURE YOUR

LOST YOUTH…

IF you ever hanker after the days when the biggest, newest tractor on a farm was a Fergy 35 or a Ford 3000, youll enjoy the latest addition to the swelling ranks of farmers weekly posters.

Weve picked 22 popular or unusual tractors from the 50s, 60s and 70s in an unashamedly sentimental trip down memory lane. You can pick one up for £2.50 from the FW stand at major shows or send off for one for £3 + 75p post and packaging from: Simmonds Postal Publicity Ltd, 82/84 Peckham Rye, London SE15 4HB. Bulk order prices on request; phone 0171-639 0331.

Dont forget that we also do a poster showing 20 current tractors for the same price. If you want to order both by post, send £6 + 75p post and packaging.

UNDISPUTED

HOME OF

ORGANICS?

CALIFORNIA, with its benign climate, good soils and cheap irrigation water, was probably always destined to become a centre for organic food growing. Organic crops have been grown in the state for decades, but the turning point was the introduction of the 1990 California Organic Foods Act (COFA). Its purpose was to standardise the use of the word organic and it established guidelines for marketing labels as well as setting standards and procedures. It also regulated the production, processing, and handling of organic products and required all organic growers and processors who wanted their food crops to be called organic to be registered.

Not all organic growers are registered. Industry experts suggest that only 30-40% of all organic producers actually sell their produce as organic. The rest is thought to be sold through conventional, non-organic channels. Similarly, many growers who appear from their registration forms to be small or medium size turn out to be large-scale conventional farmers who have set aside a small part of their land as organic to test the market.

Two particular issues have been exercising the minds of organic growers in California in the last year. One was the proposed change to US organic regulations that would have allowed GM and irradiated foods to still be called organic. After extensive protests by the organic movement, it was headed off.

The other concerned certification, and the proposal that all growers with annual sales of more than $5000 (£3125) would have to be certified each year by an accredited agency. The cost of such annual checks would have had a serious effect on the balance sheets of small producers.

A bit of history

Organic farming hasnt always been regarded with the reverence it is today. Farmers who began organic farming during the 1960s and 1970s were often assumed to be urban refugees or ex-hippies (some were). Consumers and conventional farmers alike looked on them with disdain and it took many years before the organic movement edged into the consciousness of mainstream American consumers.

Growing pains

As with any agricultural venture, organic success has not been without its costs. In particular, the organic movement has had to recognise the need for volume production, quality of produce and consistency. It is certainly a growing market in the US, as elsewhere, though its hard to measure its exact size. The market for "natural" (though non-organic) food has reportedly reached $20b/(£12b)yr, with organically produced products accounting for $3.5m(£2.2m) of that. Thats three times the level of the early 1990s.

The number of registered organic farms increased from 1157 in 1995 to 1372 in 1998, a gain of 19%. In the same period the area of organic crops grew from 42,302 acres to 45,070, a modest increase of 7%.

The value of crops grown by registered growers increased from $74m (£46m) to $95.1 million (£59m), a gain of 26%. In contrast, during the same three years, the number of registered growers (as opposed to farms) fell by 2%, from 527 down to 517.

Acreage and sales

Most registered organic growers are small, with a few acres and sales to match. In fact 50% of all registered farms are less than 2ha (5 acres) in size. Half of all organic vegetable farms are 1.2ha (3 acres) or smaller and have annual sales of less than $8350 (£5330). Half of all fruit and nut farms have 2ha (5 acres) or less, and sales under $5,000 (£3125).

Farms growing field-scale crops tend to be bigger; the average size is 43ha (107acres) and annual sales average $52,000 (£32,000) In fact, despite the large number of small farms involved, most organic production comes from a few large growers. In 1994-95, over half the value of Californian organic production was represented by 2% of growers, each grossing more than $500,000 (£310,000).

Changes in numbers

and size

As in agriculture generally, farms in the organic sector could be expected to become larger in size but fewer in number. That is whats happened with Californian organic vegetable growers. Their numbers dropped from 405 to 393 between 1995 and 1997, while average farm size rose from 15ha (36acres) to 17ha (41acres). Similarly sales/acre went from $2615 (£1630) to $3655 (£2280).

The future?

The success and diversity of organic production in California and elsewhere in the world is not without its scholarly detractors. A paper on environmentally sustainable agriculture written by Dennis T Avery of the Hudson Institute warned: "The biggest danger to the worlds natural environment today is low-yield agriculture."

He further added, "Amazingly, the worlds agricultural professionals have been so busy apologising for the supposed sins of monocropping and pesticide spraying that we have missed the most important environmental benefit of modern day farming. It produces more food from fewer acres, so it leaves more land for nature."

However, Steven C Blank, agricultural economist at the University of California in Davis, believes the shift to organic production is inevitable. He says agricultural producers, who face both rising costs as well as price competition from imported commodities, are being forced by economic necessity to find investments with better returns.

WINE

California has become a world player in wine production in the last two decades, so its no surprise to hear that organic wine output is on the increase too. Typical is John C Schmacher whose bottle labels say "No sulphites added – Vegan – Organically processed – Organically grown". His wines are certified organic by the CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) and many other wine producers are said to be following suit.

DAIRY

California recently overtook Wisconsin as the number one US dairy state (in terms of total production of milk, butter and yogurt) and organic production is rising. At the Straus Family Creamery just north of San Francisco, Albert Straus says that "the cool ocean breezes provide a grazing atmosphere which is less stressful for the cows than the more extreme temperatures further inland."

"No antibiotics or hormones – like bovine growth hormone (BGH) or bovine somatotrophin (BST) – are used. Everything our cows eat must be grown without pesticides. Remedies are restricted to homoeopathic medicine."

DATES

At Palm Springs, the Four Apostles Ranch grows organic medjool dates, which are certified organic by the California Certified Organic Farmers. Practices encompass use of cover crops, sheet composting, mowing instead of discing and foliar application of kelp extract. Cloth bags cover the date clusters to prevent birds and insects from damaging the fruit.

RICE

Eighty miles north of the state capital of Sacramento is Lundberg Family Farms, growers of organic rice since 1937. A total of 2900ha (7200 acres) are cropped with brown rice. Cultivated in separate parcels, organically grown brown rice has to rigidly adhere to the standards set out in the certification process. Market demands also call for non-organic rice which is grown separately. Lundberg Farms rice is also certified kosher.

BOX SCHEMES

As in the UK, box schemes for fruit and vegetables are popular. Customers of Bill Bramer and his Be Wise Ranch near San Diego pay for vegetables that are in season. Thanks to Californias climate, Mr Bramer can grow row crops all year round. Produce is delivered fresh weekly, in amounts ranging from a large box (enough to feed five adults) at $23 (£14)/week. The small box costs $17 (£11)/week.