Organic sector can fight back with new campaign, says Andrew Charlton

January has passed, and with it another year’s worth of inspections for the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme (ACCS) and the renewal of my organic licence. It now takes longer to prepare, handle and follow-up inspections than it does to bring in the whole harvest at Poplar Farm. I still can’t help wondering – where’s the value?

The launch of the new £2m “Why I Love Organic” food campaign has attracted the usual mixture of plaudits and critics. In particular, the four key points of the organic message are that organic food is better for nature, better for animal welfare, and a more natural and great-tasting food. My understanding is that these key messages have been approved by the Advertising Standards Authority, and this alone is a big help in clarifying what “organic” means to the consumer.

My interpretation of the keynote addresses at the recent Organic Research Centre Conference is that a degree of realisation has entered the organic world, and I hope that we can work together as an industry without assuming that the various groups on either side of the fence are more interested in throwing mud at each other than moving forward.

The recession has hit organic producers very hard, largely because many supermarkets have panicked into delisting organic lines, whether their customers want them to or not. Most organic farmers believe that despite the recession, consumer demand is still there for organic food. But it doesn’t help when major supermarket buyers decide not to stock organic, thinking they know better than the consumer.

Conventional farmers may still feel that such activity is market distorting, but I feel there are benefits for all farmers. For example, you can’t farm organically without Environmental Stewardship, and a diverse range of high-quality produce from British farms has to be a good showcase for us all.

Farmer focus arable: Andrew Charlton

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