Why do I farm organically? It's been quite the journey to get to this point.
I am from a hardcore vegetable growing background and was brought up in farming in the 1970s and 80s, where the advice given by ADAS (then a government agency) was to spray everything.
Whilst at agricultural college I spent time working for another vegetable company, after which I farmed my way around Australia for a year.
There must be a better way
When I returned to the UK and joined our family business properly, we started to supply the retailers. By this point, in the early 90s, pesticides were beginning to be noticed not only for the environmental effects they can cause, but also the potential effect on human health.
Customers started asking questions – which made me start thinking that there must be a better way forward.
Along with my brother Jason, we took the business down the LEAF route, and soon enough we became an early demonstration farm in 1995. Customers loved our approach to habitat management and pesticide reduction, and our business grew as a result.
Taking the plunge
In 1997, Alan Wilson, who at the time was a buyer for Waitrose, told me that I must start growing organic carrots. The idea of this terrified me, how would we control all the weeds, pests and diseases we sprayed for?
Nevertheless, we took the plunge and converted a farm. My father was an invaluable resource in the process, remembering how it was done before pesticides were commonly used. We surprised ourselves with the positive results.
It wasn't long before we were looking forward and not back in how we tackled problems, it needs a mindset change.
Instead of waiting for problems to arise then trying to cure them, you have to foresee the issues that might come your way and design your farming system over the full seven-year cycle in order to reduce the risks. This includes nutrition, weed burden, pest burden and beneficials, farm hygiene, rotations, and everything else you can think of.
Biology is the new frontier
Nowadays, we deploy precision equipment and are involved in soil health enhancement, alongside the enhancement of many natural processes in order to improve our crops.
Biology is the new frontier in farming which is very exciting, but one must remember that it is financially more expensive to grow organic produce than standard produce. However, this may well change as our knowledge in precision equipment and biological cycles.
I am now a fully committed organic grower and would personally never go back.
The most important consideration for any farmer introducing a major change in systems or enterprises is: “What is the market situation?”
If value and demand are there, then go for it.
The NFU Organic Forum can always guide you to talk to the right people to help you make the right decision for your business.