As he completes his term of office - spanning over 10 years - NFU Organic Forum chairman John Pawsey reflects on his involvement with the forum and the NFU. He writes:
Although I have only been chairman of the NFU Organic Forum for a single term, I have been a member of the Forum since 2008 in all its various guises with chairmen including Paul Temple, Meurig Raymond, Adam Quinney and our current President Minette Batters.
I have worked with some with wonderful facilitators such as Ruth Edge, Christine McDowell, Lorna Hegenbarth and Helen Hunt. But, in my book, five years is long enough in most committee posts, let alone over ten!
Through my time with the Organic Forum communication has been a key ambition of both mine personally and that of the Organic Forum. We have been able to do this through an active and full representative Organic Forum, who meet 4 times a year.
Forum members have a unique chance to make a real difference and help to drive the direction of the NFU. It is always important to encourage new members onto the forum and I urge anyone with an interest in representing their region to get involved, it is a great opportunity not to be missed.
In addition to the forum meetings, we held three farm walk events in 2019 and are in the process of arranging a virtual farm tour this summer. The farm visits took place across the UK with around 90 individuals, both organic and conventional producers attending which allowed for comprehensive discussions and cross learning between the sectors.
See also: Register for our virtual organic farming events
Standing down has unfortunately, for NFU Council, allowed me to consider the Union, and I have a few reflections I wish to share.
In 2008 the Organic Issues Group, as we were called then, was made up of a self-selecting bunch of fiery individuals on the brink of recession but passionate about organic farming.
Supermarkets were whipping organic produce off their shelves in anticipation of a sales slump while the Group attempted to bash Paul Temple into persuading the NFU to produce a leaflet saying that organic farming was better than all other farming systems for a multitude of reasons and that Genetically Modified crops were the work of the devil. As you can imagine, Paul was not for turning.
Since we have had to be elected as members and chaired the Forums ourselves and have been included in Policy and Council, I feel the Union has connected with us and given us teeth but more importantly, and especially in my own case, given me the opportunity to really understand the strengths of this organisation and how positively it affects the organic sector
It has come as a huge surprise to me that other farmers are actually as passionate about their own sectors as I am about mine!
I remember my first Crops Board meeting with former Chair, Mike Hambley, taking the Board through their paces in the latest list of chemistry on the list of disapproval. I was so affected by the genuine feeling of loss from the members, there is a picture of me somewhere holding the G on the end of the #GlyphosateIsVital sign in solidarity with my fellow farmers and with a tear in my eye as Couch Grass and Creeping Thistles ravage my farm.
But that is the strength of our Union. We all have different oats to pull, sheep to shear and in the case of the Environmental Forum Chair, wood axe to grind. But we take what we can and fight those corners hard. Those shadowy recesses are generally those areas that affect us all and we don’t just light up those areas for our members, we light them up for all farmers.
You will often hear my organic brethren talk about the importance of diversity. The NFU is the queen of diversity.
Experts in every field, shed and polytunnel. Growing food to every standard and price point. Shaping our countryside with food production, managing our beautiful landscape and providing homes for wildlife.
There is no other farming organisation that can genuinely deliver through its members and most importantly officeholders, the spectrum of what we can offer and we can offer it at scale.
We have a huge amount to be proud about. To my mind, any farmer, government or non-governmental organisation who doesn’t positively engage with us is missing a massive trick.
I have been incredibly proud to have been involved with you all for the past 12 years and encourage others to become involved in the union.