Review of the environmental and socio-economic barriers and benefits to organic agriculture in Scotland

Report of the research carried out by Harper Adams University, on behalf of the Scottish Government, into the environmental and socio-economic barriers and benefits to organic agriculture in Scotland.

5. Scottish Organic Forum Workshop

A workshop was held to enable members of the Scottish Organic Forum to discuss more detailed ideas for future actions to address some of the priorities identified throughout the REA, SWOT analysis and prioritisation by stakeholders.  

5.1. Methods

On the 8th January 2019, seven members of the Scottish Organic Forum convened at a workshop hosted by the Scottish Government and led by representatives of Harper Adams University and the James Hutton Institute. The members of the Scottish Organic Forum present included, working organic farmers, Soil Association Scotland, SRUC and the Scottish Organic Producers Association. Attendees were presented with the outcomes from the Rapid Evidence Assessment and The Scottish Organic Action Plan Consultation (2016). They were asked to discuss the outcomes, contribute with additional recommendations that were outside of the REA’s scope and identify how the Scottish Government could address the priorities in consideration of importance and feasibility. 

During the workshop attendees were invited to add to the benefits and barriers outlined in the tables of priorities (Table 6 & 7) with key priorities of their own. The combined outcomes were used to form a STEEP (social, technical, environmental, economic and political) framework (Appendix 2), evaluating the different external impacts to organic farming in Scotland from both a production and consumption perspective. 

5.2 Results

The group highlighted a poor perception of organic farmers in the wider agri socio-economic sphere and the need for greater support through public policy and funding as additional issues fundamental to organic farming in Scotland. 

Following this, the group proposed a total of 15 significant actions that could be taken to address points within the STEEP framework (Appendix 3). To ensure manageable outcomes from the workshop for the Scottish Government, attendees were asked together to prioritise key actions, accounting for their importance, feasibility, timescale of implementation, and ability to address multiple priorities simultaneously. These key actions, their current status and who could address them were identified as:

Cooperation in utilising and promoting Scottish organic produce. 

Cooperatives offer farms reduced price sensitivity due to economies of scale and present the opportunity to pool resources for wider promotion of Scottish organic produce and also improve the supply chain (see the Quality Meat Scotland campaign, supported by the Scottish Government with £200,000 funding). This could be addressed by encouraging a model of collaboration across the board, supported by the Scottish Government through greater funding and policy implementation (the implementation of the Danish Government’s organic model has been linked with a 24 percentage point median increase in organic food use in public kitchens for example (Sørensen et al.,2016)).

Investment in increasing public understanding of organics.

Facilitate a greater awareness of the full benefits of organic farming to consumers i.e. positive contributions to the environment and public health. Develop a strategy to aid the normalisation of organic produce to reduce divisiveness and the stigma of exclusivity both internally and externally. This could be addressed by the Scottish Government enabling greater transparency in promotional materials. Promoting educational schemes at schools would enable young people to understand the origin of their food, the different ways it is produced and what the social and environmental consequences of this production are, from an early age. 

Link to public procurement.

The normalisation of organic food could be supported further with a greater emphasis on procurement of organic produce in the public sector i.e. canteens and hospitals.  Public procurement is a means of achieving social and environmental policy outcomes and a case can be made to decision makers about the power of food to benefit Scotland’s rural economy and environment.

Investigate, facilitate and broker supply/demand of organic produce in Scotland. 

Ensure a detailed understanding of the organic market prior to initiatives being established to support increased Scottish organic production so as to prevent under/oversupply within the supply chain. This could be addressed by completing assessments of different supply chains i.e. how many animals are in a supply chain. Caledonian Organics, as the only Scottish organic red meat cooperative, provide assessments of the number of animals within the supply chain.  Caledonian Organics have stated they could provide more complete information with additional resources i.e. funding from the Scottish Government. Expansion to supply chain assessments of other commodities could also be supported. 

Discussions within the workshop were productive, with organic industry experts engaging with outcomes of the REA in the context of their own and their organisation’s experiences of the challenges and opportunities faced in organic farming in Scotland. The key outcomes of the workshop were recommendations characterised as both important and feasible. It should, however, be considered that despite the outcomes being a product of representatives from dairy farms, mixed farms, Soil Association Scotland, SRUC and the Scottish Organic Producers Association, there were only seven members present.



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