6th ORC Organic Producers’ Conference

Aston University, Birmingham, 18-19th January 2012

ORC’s 2012 conference ends on a high note – Miguel Altieri sets out the challenge for organic food and farming systems to fully integrate agro-ecological principles

Image: Miguel Altieri (right) with Martin Wolfe at the ORC conference

ORC’s 6th Organic Producers’ Conference, which took place at Aston University, Birmingham, from 18th-19th January 2012, attracted more than 200 participants who provided very positive feedback on the mix of technical, business, policy and other sessions covering wider social and environmental issues.

A highlight for many was the closing presentation given by Prof. Miguel Altieri from University of California, Berkeley, at the end of a whirlwind round of UK appearances. Miguel highlighted the global challenges facing agriculture, but questioned whether further development of industrialised agricultural approaches could meet the challenge. 50% of the world’s food was produced by subsistence producers who could not access these technologies and only a third using Western, commercial industrial models. He highlighted many examples of innovative agro-ecological approaches being used and developed by indigenous farmers in Latin America and other countries, and showed how research could help identify how these systems work in practice.

However, Altieri also emphasised that an agro-ecological approach was not just about biology or technology, but reflected a set of principles encompassing food sovereignty, social justice, environmental soundness, economic viability and cultural diversity. He argued that in some situations, such as California, many organic farms were still focused on input substitution and had not fully engaged with these agro-ecological principles. At the same time, there were many farmers using agro-ecological principles who were not certified organic. The challenge was to bring these approaches closer together, building on significant common ground and taking inspiration from the examples of individual producers acting as ‘lighthouses’ or beacons to show the way forward.

The debate on CAP reform in the opening plenary, in particular the high profile given to organic farming in the proposals to ‘green’ agricultural support payments and the message of support to organic producers from Defra Minister Jim Paice, also attracted press attention, with Farmers Weekly covering it in its printed edition of 20th January as well as on-line.

Plenary sessions

  1. The impact of the CAP Reform proposals on UK organic producers
  2. Making agro-ecology work in practice

Arable workshops

  1. Temperate silvo-arable systems around the world
  2. Biosolids and biosolid products: the way forward
  3. Optimising nitrogen inputs and timing for cereals
  4. Non-inversion tillage for arable and field-scale vegetable crops

Horticulture workshops

  1. Untapped horticultural markets – what do you sell apart from veg?
  2. Community vegetable production – adding values to local food
  3. Functional biodiversity for growers
  4. Non-inversion tillage for arable and field-scale vegetable crops

Dairy workshops

  1. Grass seed/variety availability
  2. Sustainable Organic and Low Input Dairying project – innovation needs for dairying
  3. Healthy Feet and more: improving dairy cow health and welfare
  4. Lean or fat? Making money from milk

Meat workshops

  1. Changing organic feed regulations – principles or pragmatism?
  2. Sheep scab: scratching beyond the surface
  3. Carbon emissions from extensive organic livestock systems – can organic deliver?
  4. Reconciling prices and costs of production – can we make ends meet?

Other workshops

  1. Practical steps to supply chain sustainability
  2. Corporate organics & organic/ethical principles: the debate
  3. Communicating organic: are ads, apps & raps the way forward?
  4. Legumes: multi-species and multifunctional

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