Andrew Bergin: Think non-binary: spectrum of approaches to farming doesn’t fit neatly into ‘organic’ and ‘conventional’ labels
The National Organic Training Skillnet is a great organisation but it could possibly do with a better name.
part from its acronym, NOTS, being a bit negative, the name is also much narrower than the actual focus of its activities and may put off people who could really benefit from its services.
Actually, ‘NOTS’ probably sums up how many farmers see organics: you must NOT do this or that, you must NOT use all the stuff you used to, and so on.
Farming is already full of ‘NOTs’, so signing up for loads more has limited appeal.
And is it in farmers’ interests to allow ourselves to be Balkanised as ‘conventional’ or ‘organic’ or whatever pen it suits political or commercial interests to round us into?
BioFarm 2021 could be a valuable chance to put away the knives and celebrate how much all farmers have in common.
This is the fourth year of NOTS’ annual conference and, going on past form, the focus will be very broad and positive.
I have heard them say that about half the attendance is organic and half conventional, although these labels strike me as bit binary these days.
There is now a whole spectrum of approaches to farming that does not fit neatly into these categories and, to be fair, NOTS loves all its children equally and encourages and nurtures whatever we are doing.
BioFarm is emerging from Covid as a hybrid event, making the best of circumstances with a range of virtual and actual speakers.
Some of the international big names on the programme would probably be outside the budget of an event like this in normal times, and getting them all in the country at the same time would not be quite like Electric Picnic, but it would be tricky.
They are joined by a growing number of local speakers whose experiences are often much more easily applied to what we are doing on farms here, and enough of the Irish and UK-based speakers will be there in person to make it a live event in front of an audience.
You can’t really compare watching an event at home on a screen with being there yourself. The impression made by speakers at a fairly small event, where you can sometimes also chat to them before or afterwards, is much richer.
Seeing the reactions of an audience to a speaker can also influence your own responses, and bumping into friends and strangers between sessions is where the best stuff happens.
Opportunities to meet people with a range of different approaches to much the same problems have been scarce lately, so head over for a day if you can.
If you can’t make it in person, online access to the whole event is reasonably priced.
With crops safely sown and the prospect of a challenging year ahead, it may be a good time to contemplate new options.
BioFarm 2021 is in Carrick-on-Shannon from November 8-12. nots.ie/events/biofarm-2021/
Andrew Bergin is a tillage farmer based near Athy, Co Kildare
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