“The pros and cons of being organic”

04 February 2020, 12:22 PM
  • Richard Hollingbery of Godminster on what's changed in 20 years for the organic producer
“The pros and cons of being organic”

At Godminster, our mindset has always been “Nature repays those who treat her kindly”, and, given the alarming signs that the planet has begun to exhibit, we all increasingly recognize that we have definitely arrived at a time when this has never been more pertinent.

We are certainly not pioneers of these thoughts; as far back as 1970 our future king was warning us about the dangers of plastics and this was also the time that the modern organic movement was born, and continues to flourish today. According to The Organic Market Report 2019, the UK organic market itself grew by 5.3% in 2018, its eighth consecutive year of positive growth, and 75% of Soil Association licensees predict growth in 2019. These can only be good indicators for a segment of the market that has taken time to mature.

In our opinion, the pros far outweigh the cons at Godminster Farm; now in our twentieth year as an organic producer, we see a relaxed and approachable herd of cows which are fed on forage and plant-based rations resulting in improved overall herd health and wellbeing, as well as gradually rising yields. Out and about, our understanding of rotational crop management at Godminster improves annually and we are also enjoying the fruits of past habitat creation and management (woodlands, ponds, hedgerows), leading to further improvements in soil, water and air quality, as well as visible increases in biodiversity and population sizes.

As consumers understand more about Godminster and what we stand for, sales of Godminster Vintage Organic Cheddar continue to thrive. Naturally, allied with a higher level of detail and a commitment to better husbandry there is a cost, but hopefully not to the planet itself and the landscape we manage, and this mirrors the message given out by the Soil Association which states, “Less But Better”. It is also apparent that organic practices are becoming increasingly relevant to the consumer. Over the 20 years that Godminster has been selling its Vintage Organic Cheddar we have slowly seen a transformation of consumer attitude from a viewpoint of it being an out and out luxury item to being one which has a greater relevance in today’s world – even if it costs a little more.

This is best summed up using a quote from The Soil Association’s Organic Market Report 2019, which states “Organic integrity and values are aligned with many of today’s consumers who continue to see it as a key signpost to health. It fits well with mindful consumerism, environmentalism, veganism [not applicable to Godminster] and vegetarianism – trends which are dominating the market.” In addition to this, Oxford scientists published research this year calling for more people to adopt a ‘flexitarian’ diet in order to combat climate change, promote food sustainability and reduce pollution, which have always been associated with some of the core values as laid down by the Soil Association. And it would also appear to conform to the trend that, whilst food eaten at home represents a smaller proportion of household incomes, quality, provenance and therefore ethical consumerism seem to be stronger factors than they ever have been to date.

In my opinion, unless the market witnesses the appearance of new, single farm, artisan organic cheeses, then it is unlikely that there will be more organic cheesemakers as time goes on. The main reason for this involves the supply of organic milk within the UK. Since the Organic Milk Suppliers Coop (OMSCO), who manage a large proportion of organic milk produced in the UK, announced their collaboration with Wyke Farms to manufacture much more organic Cheddar for ever-expanding export markets, it would appear to me that this is likely to restrict the supply of organic milk for new entrants into the organic cheese market. Add a possible no-deal Brexit and the imported supplies of Polish and other European organic milk may too, be restricted thus representing a further barrier to entry.

This is not to say that it won’t happen, but the complications of maintaining an even milk supply from a single herd make single farm cheeses a real headache to manage but if there is anyone out there considering entry, I wish you the best of luck!

Originally published in May 2019.

more like this