Chairman’s 2017 Annual Review
By Adrian Blackshaw, OTB Chairman.
As a Trade Association, OTB must remain vigilant and informed in this fluid political climate. Although the UK organic sector is in strong growth mode, aided by OTB’s consumer marketing campaign, the unexpected events of the last 18 months only serve to confirm the unpredictable world we live in. Of immediate concern is the health of the UK economy as we progress towards and beyond Brexit.
You will be relieved that I have no intention of regurgitating the pros and cons of our June 25th Referendum decision to leave the EU. The cards are now dealt and we must plan, as an organic agricultural and food industry, with enthusiasm and grasp the opportunities the other side of Brexit and the transition period. However, the eventual outcome of Brexit remains uncertain. We must be able to respond to developments as they unfold. The road will be rocky as we anticipate the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
OTB’s members, spanning food retailers, food manufacturers, producers, certifying bodies and organic brands all have a stake in the future prosperity of our agriculture and food industry. I am confident that the organic sector will grow both in sales, market share and percentage of UK land under organic production. In my year in the role as Chairman, I have been struck by the growth of the sector worldwide, powered by a younger generation - the 25 to 35 year olds. This younger demographic has fully grasped the environmental benefit of organic farming and the health benefits of organic food consumption and is increasingly driving future growth.
We will always advocate the environmental benefits of organic farming, plus the widely perceived health and taste benefits of organic food, ingrained in our DNA. However, we will continue to make the economic case for conversion to organic. We must articulate to all target audiences and stakeholders the potential crop and financial yield of organic production.
Organic land under production:
Farmers have difficult decisions to make that affect their businesses long term. They must be convinced of the economic model, security of th market and the attractiveness of an enhanced financial return, commensurate with effort and capital employed. There is, however, a concern about the potential turbo-lag of demand being outstripped by supply. Logic tells us that the reverse is the case on the ground. We are never going to compete on the European and Global stage unless we correct our disjointed supply chain and increase UK land under organic production (now at 3%). We must address the pressing issue of satisfying domestic demand and import substitution and where possible look for export markets. There is no doubt that in the UK we have a highly respected and regulated organic market, and a national UK brand trusted worldwide.
2. Political WorkEU green organic leaf logo
OTB as a Trade Association, working with our members and other farming representative bodies, are in a position to lobby on behalf of the organic sector at political level.
With the recent phase one agreement between the UK and the EU, and the hard and soft Brexiteers seeming to be reasonably content (for the moment), the debate is now focused on convergence or divergence and alignment, imposed or voluntarily embraced.
It would seem that we have a transition period of some two years beyond March 2019, when we will be aligned to EU laws and regulations. It is probably safe to assume that our Organic Standards in the UK will be aligned to EU standards until post the transition period. The question is what lies beyond…
Members of the EOF, including OTB, are in the process of responding to a Defra tender for a piece of work to analyse best practice in organic standards worldwide, and to make recommendations to Defra for the post Brexit environment.
With alignment being the buzz-word flowing from recent discussions with the EU, it would seem that UK Organic Regulatory framework will mirror EU regulations up to March 2019 and possibly a two-year transition period beyond that. However, at the time of writing there is speculation that we may exit the Common Agricultural Policy in March 2019. We will probably be subject to single market and customs union rules in the period. Suffice to say that we will, on exit from the EU, inherit (bring into UK law) EU organic regulations. From that point, notwithstanding the fact that the EU is a major market for UK agricultural products, if we diverge in any way it will be to adopt best practice from around the world, with an eye on Equivalency in trading terms.
Apart from work with Defra via OTB membership of the EOF (See EOF para below). As Chairman, I met Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs at the Royal Show in July. I briefed the Minister on UK and World organic sector growth.
I also met George Eustice MP in Westminster for a broad discussion in November. We discussed a variety of subjects, including payments for public goods, equivalency, replacement for the SAWS scheme, the amount of agricultural land under organic production, the wildlife package linked to the Countryside Stewardship scheme, managed by Natural England, conversion and maintenance payments, private sector finance for the organic sector and board representation for OTB members on AHDB boards. In a follow-up, I responded to a question posed by the Minister, relating to a separate public goods payment scheme for organic farmers, as follows –
“You asked the question as to whether Organic Farmers should have a separate Payments for Public goods scheme. There is now a substantial body of research available that supports the fact that organic farming delivers in this area. As you appreciate, we will respond via the English Organic Forum in more detail as we develop the second draft of the Organic Action Plan. However, I have conferred with my colleagues and the view is that, mindful of the fact that the Organic sector is subject to laws, regulations and rigorous inspections prior to certification and on an annual basis, we feel that it would be appropriate that Defra should award a separate scheme for the sector. The case is, I feel, also made by the fact that organic farming delivers on a multiple of public goods simultaneously. We will of course expand this line of thinking in much more detail when we let you have the second draft of the Organic Action Plan in February. I hope this helps”.
In September, OTB led a presentation at the House of Commons for MPs, to explain world growth in organics. The event was chaired and hosted by Neil Parish MP, Chair of the Environment Food & Rural Affairs Select Committee. Paul Holmbeck, Director of Organic Denmark, Nicholas Saphir, Chairman OMSCO and Prof Carlo Leifert, Newcastle University co-presented alongside OTB. The Soil Association, Organic Farmers & Growers, G’s and other representatives from the sector attended the event.
There is no doubt that there is much the organic sector can do to increase market share, by being innovative, anticipate market trends, etc. However, this is a timely moment, with Brexit creating threats and opportunities for the sector. Government can create benign weather to enable growth. The sector is no longer niche, but mainstream with an emerging generation of young consumers and farmers who will grow the sector with an increasing international presence. OTB will continue to work with Government and all UK organic sector representative bodies, many of which are currently OTB members, to support the organic sector.
English Organic Forum (EOF):
In the course of the year, as a member of the EOF, alongside other OTB members, we have been meeting the Defra Organic team, in addition to George Eustice MP, Minster of State, Department for Environment & Rural Affairs, for regular Roundtable meetings. A range of subjects are covered including the environment, agriculture, food, rural affairs and CAP reform. In addition, EOF is developing an Organic sector Action Plan, at the request of Defra. This plan should help to inform the 2018 Agricultural Bill. The following areas will be covered:
• Trade & Economy and Long Supply Chain.
• Conversion and Maintenance support.
• Regulations and Equivalency.
• Organic food, Consumers and Public Procurement.
• Short Supply Chain.
• Advice, Training, Research and information.
OTB has hosted the Defra Organic team to four organic farm visits in Shropshire and Herefordshire in the course of the year.
The use of copper as a foliar feed, to protect against scab and canker has been hit or miss over a number of years, causing great uncertainty for the growers of some 15 crops. The argument is that if the UK acted unilaterally and banned copper, tree fruit growers would quickly see the health of their trees deteriorate and fruit would become unsaleable (scab is unsightly). If this occurred, a vacuum would be created in the market, which would be soon filled by EU producers, growing product using copper. Not an ideal scenario.
As a member of the EOF, OTB was asked, on behalf of the sector to lead in this area working with Defra AHDB, CRD, H&S, OF&G, SA, Certis and Agrovista. The Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP) asked OTB and AHDB to put our case for the extension of use against canker, for Apples & Pears. End of season 2017 application for canker was granted, with an indication that there will also be approval in the Spring of 2018 for early season application against scab and canker, pre-bud burst. A second application was processed via AHDB to ECP for scab use. An application for Potatoes is now in hand with AHDB.
The organic sector has accepted that at some stage in the future an alternative for copper must be found. There is now a general view that we need to work with our EU friends, organic bodies (IFOAM etc) in the medium long term to find a solution. Organic Research Centre is also looking at this area.
3. OTB Governance
In January, in consultation with our members, we took a decision to restructure OTB to put us in a better position, as a trade association, to meet the challenges ahead. To that end, we created a Strategic Board, a Marketing and Membership committee.
I am delighted to announce two new additions to the OTB Strategic Board – Roger Kerr, CEO of Organic Farmers & Growers and Martin Sawyer, CEO Soil Association Certification. I must also take this opportunity to thank Martin Humphries, Abel & Cole, who retires on rotation, for his valuable contribution to OTB during his time as a Director. We wish him well with the day job. The Board will continue to steer the direction of OTB, on behalf of all members, up to and beyond Brexit. The current composition of the Board is:
Adrian Blackshaw – Chairman
Paul Moore – Finance Director
Anna Rosier – Marketing Director
Adam Wakeley – CEO, Organic Farm Foods
Adrian Carne – Chairman, Yeo Valley
Mark Haynes – MD, G’s Fresh
Martin Sawyer – CEO Soil Association Certification
Roger Kerr – CEO Organic Farmers & Growers
The committee was established in October, tasked with defining and developing member benefits, increasing engagement by members with the marketing campaign for maximum benefit to the sector, and fund raising for the continued work of the OTB.
Many thanks to Daylesford for hosting our latest meeting and to the team who have put themselves forward to deliver this work:
Chairman. Paul Moore, Organic Trade Board
Secretariat: Annie Seeley, Organic Trade Board
Kate Clark: Luscious Ice Cream
Maria Dawson: Clearspring
David Edge: Calon Wen
Tracy Kane: Community Foods
Roger Kerr: Organic Farmers and Growers
Therese O’Riordan: Dawn Meats
By December 31st, in conjunction with our Danish partners, Organic Denmark, we will have completed the first year of our three year, industry and EU Grant funded campaign to promote organic food. This €10.4 Million project has demonstrated its value in helping to grow the sector, with sales of organic increasing 7.1% in September. HPI research shows that consumers increasingly think that organic food is “better for me”, “Tastes Great” and, crucially, “is worth it”. Research also shows that growth is driven by a younger consumer, who are increasingly aware of the benefits.
Special thanks to Triodos Bank who with great foresight, imagination and understanding have provided us with a loan facility, which enables us to implement the campaign.
To deliver the project in the UK on behalf of the sector and the 60 UK companies that provide the seed funding, we have assembled a hard-working Marketing Committee to act as a sounding board for the campaign and ensure greater co-ordination and industry support for the work. Our thanks in 2017 to:
Chair: Anna Rosier, Organic Trade Board
Melanie Cherchian, Sainsbury’s
Sophie Daranyi, RAPP
Deidre MacNair, Village Communications
Clare McDermott, Soil Association
Jemma Moran, Organic Trade Board
Dan Rusga, Yeo Valley
As we now have 154 Members and an expanding workload, meeting and engaging with existing and potential members is crucial to the ethos of the OTB, as a membership organisation.
In addition to our annual Members briefing in London in March, the team have taken part in members briefings in England – (thank you to Garden Organic for hosting), Ireland, Scotland and Wales (thank you to Rhug Estate for hosting) reflecting our broad geographic membership base. It is our most effective means of keeping members up to date with the work that we have engaged in on your behalf, ensure as members you are aware of forthcoming activity that will benefit your business and ensure we have an ear close to the ground.
We continue to add to our membership list and we are particularly pleased to welcome our 27 new members in 2017: Plenish, HiPeak, Food Speed, Plamil, Sunita, Organic Wine Club, Greenscents, Challons Combe, Organic Food Federation, Heath and Heather, Nuren, CLF, Iraw, Hodmedod, Quinola Mothergrain, Traidcraft, LPQ, St Peter's Brewery, Biodynamic Association, Source Atlantique, Food Young, Garden Organic, Luscious Ice Cream, Organic Trust, Da Mhile, Largo, E Price & sons.
Lastly, but very importantly I would like to publicly thank the OTB team for all their hard work throughout 2017. My thanks to the executive directors of the OTB, Adam Wakeley, Paul Moore and Anna Rosier who underpin the work of the OTB.
Paul Moore, for making me most welcome and for helping me find my feet as your new Chairman, and for all his hard work across the broad spread of our activity, helping to keep all the balls in the air.
It would be a great omission if I did not recognise the creative work of Catherine Fookes over many years for helping to secure our EU funding and running our marketing campaign tirelessly. Although she stood down in August to take up the role of Director, Women’s Equality Network Wales, we salute her for her invaluable contribution to OTB and wish her well in her future career.
Enormous thanks must go to Anna Rosier for stepping into Catherine’s shoes as our new Marketing Director. Anna has brought to the role her wealth of experience as past MD of Organix and is now running our campaign aimed at consumers with great professionalism and dedication. Anna, is a past Director of OTB and now a Director on our strategic board.
Behind the scenes, we benefit enormously from the work of a dedicated and flexible team, who deliver all our output and ensure the smooth running of an organisation with increasingly high expectations. Thanks to:
Annie Seeley, our communications officer responsible for organising the content for our monthly newsletter, OTB members meetings, trade shows and membership recruitment and retention.
Jemma Moran, an enormously talented Social Media Manager, co-ordinating, engaging and navigating this mushrooming phenomenon that is increasingly important for all businesses and institutions engaged with customers and clients.
Tilly Ashton, our enthusiastic and committed campaign co-ordinator responsible for the recruitment of high street retailers to Wake up to Organic. This work aimed at promoting organic directly to consumers on high streets throughout the UK, took place in 250 stores and serves an estimated 10,000 breakfasts on 14th June 2017. We have great expectations for 2018.
Louise Winter, our finance administrator, who single handed processes and manages the hundreds of transactions and postings required to meet our financial obligations and the onerous reporting and control required by the EU for the marketing campaign and the daily administration of all of the OTB’s financial affairs.
I wish you all you a very happy Christmas and New Year.