Category Archives: Land tenure

Organic farming: better for the climate, soil conservation, biodiversity and food security


joanna-blythmanThis news will be of particular interest to those who have read about animal factory-farming methods (see the work of Tracy Worcester) and those who were earlier stunned by the exposure of systemic pesticides in ‘Roots of Evil’ (The Guardian 29.4.95) by Joanna Blythman(left) – often described as Britain’s leading investigative food journalist.

In 2016, Scheherazade Daneshkhu, Consumer Industries Editor for the Financial Times, reported that home deliveries of organic vegetables have almost returned to pre-recession levels – £2.1bn in 2008.There has also been a higher demand for organic jam, tea, oils, organic cotton clothes and beauty products.

soil-aShe cited the Soil Association’s 2016 Market Report, free to members, which recorded that sales of organic products rose last year by 4.9% to £1.95bn in the UK – the third year of consecutive growth for the UK organic sector, now worth £1.95bn. Sales of non-organic food dropped by 0.9%.

An increase in the numbers of independent suppliers has helped the sector to establish firm roots

80% of organic sales were made in supermarkets a decade ago and that proportion has fallen to 70% as organic products have benefited from the broader retail trend towards more local and online shopping. Ocado’s organic sales jumped by 19% as the online retailer expanded its organic range by a quarter. Discounters Aldi and Lidl are also gaining share of the market with small but growing ranges.

orc-header-2017The Organic Research Centre is the UK’s leading independent research centre for the development of organic food production and land management solutions to climate change, soil and biodiversity conservation and food security.

Its detailed financial report on organic farming in England and Wales for 2014/15, published two months later also showed organic farm profits increasing, with organic dairy farming outperforming conventional dairy farming in England and Wales.

orc-graphThis research was undertaken for the Welsh Government, a partner in Organic Centre Wales. It highlighted that the organic dairy industry is now generating higher profits during that period than conventional farms despite producing lower yields.

This was due to reduced costs on items such as fertiliser and machinery together with the premium price for organic milk.

Professor Nic Lampkin from the Organic Research Centre, one of the co-authors of the report said:

organic-food-text“Organic farms are far more engaged in production methods that are better for the environment. Restricted pesticide inputs, and more diverse crop rotations contribute to greater diversity and to natural weed, pest and disease control. These are all seen as important reasons for the financial support given to the organic sector . . .

“We have been monitoring the performance and profitability of the organic sector in England and Wales for the past 20 years the analysis of 2014/15 data showed that organic farms achieved higher or similar profitability to comparable conventional farms, and on organic LFA (less favoured area) cattle & sheep farms profitability was statistically higher than conventional farms. At the enterprise level, organic dairying net margins were above the conventional level, whilst for beef and sheep enterprises, organic margins were ahead of the conventional sector. Cropping enterprises also showed a positive position for most organic activities, and therefore it can be concluded that with the addition of support payments, organic farms are performing at a similar or better level than comparable conventional farms”.

However, the Soil Association report points out that despite the third consecutive year of organic sales growth, the amount of land under organic cultivation has continued to fall. There are 548,700 hectares of farmed organic land, down 5% since 2013, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The amount of land in conversion to organic is also in decline but the size of the average organic farm has increased, in line with trends in the sector.

More reassuringly, the Organic Research Centre report adds that although numbers fell during the recession, organic farming in England and Wales has stabilised, with fewer farmers withdrawing from the sector and new converters coming on board. 

‘Organic Farm Incomes in England and Wales 2014/15’ can be downloaded here: 2014/2015, PDF 2.04mb – no paywall.

For the full ORC article please click here.





We can’t eat money – food security requires that the government acts to ensure fair trade and a fair deal for tenant farmers

In 2012, farmer Andrew Riddell mounted a legal challenge after being given notice to quit by millionaire landowner Alastair Salvesen. Shortly after losing the case, he collected one final harvest before he was due to be evicted from the farm his family had tended for more than 100 years, and killed himself.

milk farmers leaveAs farmers leave the land in droves (Dec 2014 figures, left) over 20,000 people have now signed a petition on behalf of another Scottish tenant farmer, Andrew Stoddart and his family, who will be made homeless in under a fortnight.

Mr Stoddart believes he is being forced from the farm so the factor and owner can make a higher profit. Provost Ludociv Broun-Lindsay, a Conservative on East Lothian Council, was listed as the owner of the Colstoun Mains in the council’s register of interests and the factor, Sir Francis Ogilvie who succeeded his father as the 14th Baronet of Inverquharity, is managing the estate.

This threat follows a ten year saga in which Mr Stoddart’s right to have his rent reviewed in the Land Court (2003) was legally challenged by his landlord, but granted by a Court of Session ruling in 2010. A 20% reduction in rent was agreed but only ‘signed off’ in 2013.

scot farmers andrew stoddartIn 1993, his bid for the ‘desolate wasteland’ farm and farmhouse — was accepted. A letter from Mr Stoddart (right) sets out in detail the costly improvements he made. During his 22-year period living on the estate, he built a grain store and drying system worth over half a million pounds, a new grain store with new grain handling system and neglect to drains, fences and hedges was rectified. Around 100 acres was drained with pipe and gravel backfill entirely at his expense. Grass and livestock have enhanced the soil fertility and the farm viability.

However, no compensation will necessarily be granted for this work, and limited tenant rights mean that Stoddart has few legal avenues available. He said “It’s bad enough to be put out of your farm but to lose that amount of money is shocking. Landlords shouldn’t be able to do this in this day and age. It’s the kind of thing that went on 100 years ago”.

He is reported to have kept his bargain to the letter, while the landlord inexplicably refused to let him into the farmhouse, despite receiving rent for it starting in 1993.

scot farmer francis ogilvieThe factor, Sir Francis Ogilvie (left), is – according to Mr Stoddart – refusing to repay his share of the building and grain handling system and the rent paid for the farmhouse that the family never slept a night in: “He also claimed, on national TV, that I am leaving voluntarily, conveniently forgetting the Land Court order they obtained to evict me . . . and that an offer was made to settle all claims; yes that’s true, but there was a zero missing off the end!”

scot farmer edThe editor of the Scottish Farmer demands that the Holyrood government takes up this issue and immediately intervenes in the scandal that will see Andrew Stoddart (and possibly numerous others) evicted from his tenanted farm through no fault of his own.

Professor Sayer: “The political power of the wealthy is a threat”

why we cant afford rich coverProfessor Andrew Sayer (social theory and political economy, Lancaster University), speaking to a gathering in Settle, said:

‘We cannot continue to provide the rich and super-rich with unearned income.

“Their political power is a threat to democracy, and their excessive consumption and dependence on never-ending growth are unsustainable.’

He has expanded on this statement in his book Why We Can’t Afford The Rich, which won the 2015 British Academy Peter Townsend prize.

Lesley Riddoch in the Scotsman records that the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 2003 – “defective” and rushed legislation – allowed any limited partnership tenant farmers facing early eviction to “upgrade” to secure tenant status. However, she reports that the night before it came into force, landowners caused factors to issue 300 eviction notices, battling through snowdrifts to deliver them before midnight. The act was later ruled unlawful, breaching the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Scottish Government has now published a draft Land Reform Bill which aims to establish a Scottish Land Commission alongside proposals to tackle Scotland’s archaic land system. But more substantial proposals – such as giving tenants the right to buy – were removed from the bill.

Lesley urges: “The Scottish Government’s lawyers and civil servants must get over their paralysing fear of re-entering the legal arena and work up plans for a restricted right to buy for tenant farmers of perhaps 100 acres – allowing them to buy the farmhouse, barn, sheds and other property they have probably improved or built themselves. This right could apply to just one farm to avoid exploitation and it must be at the heart of new legislation”.

Nicola Sturgeon spoke well on this subject (below) – will the government intervene?

scot farmer video sturgeonSee:

Richard Lochhead, Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary, said: “My officials are working on this as a matter of urgency.”