Tag Archives: organic farming

Guardian Response

Zoe Williams’ attack on all things organic (The Guardian 26/9/09) is comprehensive but incoherent. Does she really think we should condemn all organic farmers for the misdeeds of one criminal like Neil Stansfield of Swaddles Green? Or write off every organic buyer who shows a modicum of trust as a mug who deserves to be ripped off?

My 23 years of growing organic vegetables have given me a different view of organic buyers and growers (though box scheme buyers may be a little more considered than those snatching organic labels from the shelves of supermarkets or Fortnum and Mason). The vast majority are searching for a safer, fairer and more sustainable way of growing and enjoying food. Far from being unthinkingly compliant and accepting, or driven by fashion, they generally seem to me an argumentative, questioning and varied lot, making their own pragmatic judgements after balancing up a host of issues including local, fair trade, scale of production, use of packaging, animal welfare, food safety and environmental impact to name a few. Food safety and particularly the avoidance of pesticides (not covered in FSA report she quotes) often head the list of motivations for new organic buyers but, in my experience, this is soon supplanted by flavour. Few believe that organic is the only, or complete solution, but most share a belief that our food and farming needs to change and that in most instances organic offers a better alternative.

I have more sympathy with the second half of her article, condemning a perceived hijacking of all food issues by the organic movement.

Riverford welcomes EU steps to ban pesticides

cauliflower harvest

cauliflower harvest

On 13 January 2009, the European Parliament voted to ban a large number of pesticides that have been used here and elsewhere in Europe for decades. The ban has angered conventional farmers in the UK who have argued that without them crop yields will plummet and the resulting costs of food on supermarket shelves will rocket. In response to pressure from the conventional farming community the UK Government argued against the ban.

At Riverford we have been growing vegetables organically, without reliance on pesticides for 20 years.

We have proved over the last two decades, as our soils and our skills have improved, that producing commercially acceptable yields in a way that does not require chemical inputs is achievable.

Why is the EU taking these steps now?

The human risk…
The environmental campaigner, Georgina Downs has recently won a monumental battle with Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). She has spent the last seven years campaigning to make the countryside a safer place for people to live and enjoy. She grew up in West Sussex close to sprayed farmland, exposed to a cocktail of pesticides regularly applied to the land. The consequences of this exposure were severe impacts on Georgina’s health, including severe muscle wasting, leg pain and other chronic symptoms. The judicial review found that the government had failed to protect people, particularly rural residents, from exposure to pesticides. This judgment – against Defra – represents a significant breakthrough and has helped heighten the need for governments across Europe to take responsibility for protecting people from the risks that sprays present.

Wildlife implications…
Non organic farmers have become reliant on pesticides and soluble fertilisers over the last fifty years as they have been increasingly forced to cut costs and increase yields by greedy supermarkets. The implications of ever more intensive production have been huge. Wildlife on British farms has dropped as habitat and food sources have become more scarce. For example there were 25 native species of bumble bee populating the UK. Of these 25 species three are already known to now be extinct with a further five species under threat.

In contrast, organic farming has consistently been proven to deliver wildlife benefits compared with non organic farming, with numbers of birds, bees, spiders and invertebrates being higher on organically managed farms.

The long term…
A future for food and farming that relies on the use of oil hungry pesticides and fertilisers is wholly unsustainable. Last year, when the price of oil jumped to over $100/barrel, the costs of pesticides and fertilisers rose by more than two-fold. The price of oil has dropped again this year but everyone accepts that this is a short term trough. Inevitably as the world’s supplies dwindle, prices will rise once more to unprecedented levels – making the use of pesticides and fertilisers economically unviable.

The alternative…
We are really proud of the box scheme. We think it’s a great way to provide our customers with really good value, regionally produced, seasonal organic fruit and vegetables while making sure that the growers are treated fairly. It also helps us to cut waste through the chain – from the fields to the doorstep reducing our environmental impact and cutting out any unnecessary cost. And of course everything we grow and sell is organic, which helps to avoid risks to human health, protect our soils and support wildlife on our farms.