21 Soil Association – SA

Soil Association – SA

Team in O+

Ben Raskin.  Ben is the Head of Horticulture at the Soil Association. He was a commercial fruit and vegetable grower for 12 years. For more than 10 years he has been working for the Soil Association and other companies on Farmer extension work, including farmer trials, events, and running national programmes as well as disseminating technical information through (for example) events, webinars, trade journals and social media. He is currently the project lead for a national soils programme in the UK. He is also on the board of the Organic Growers Alliance and the CSA Network UK.

Hugh Blogg. Hugh is a Producer Support Project Officer at Soil Association. Hugh focuses on RELACS and Organic-PLUS research projects which investigate pathways to phasing out contentious inputs in organic agriculture.
Hugh previously worked as administrator in Soil Association Certification and also volunteered in the Soil Association Press Office which has introduced him to the huge scope of the organisation and the role it plays. Hugh studied for an MSc in Sustainability and Adaptation at The Centre for Alternative Technology with particular interests in energy provision, resilient food systems, and soil microbial diversity. Previously Hugh was part of the Ethical Consumer Remote Research Team and volunteered at the Hulme Community Garden Centre in Manchester. He gained further insights into organic growing methods through the WWOOF network. He studied for a Permaculture Design Certificate at Sector 39, Wales and subsequently assisted in the running of micro-mushroom farm, Fungusloci, Stroud.

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About The Soil Association (SA)

The Soil Association (SA) is a charity founded in 1946. SA works to secure healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use.

SA is partner in both sister projects: RELACS and Organic-PLUS  which investigate pathways to phasing out contentious inputs in organic agriculture

SA works to address the twin challenges of producing more food with fewer resources, and addressing the profound public health challenges created by changing diets. A key part of their strategy is to enable farmers to innovate more effectively, testing and developing new approaches through farmer led ‘field labs’ part of an innovative farmers programme; recognising that experimentation by farmers is becoming increasingly important in driving agricultural innovation in a volatile climate and environment. The programme has been recognised by the European Commission and Defra as an exemplar for the European Innovation Partnership (EIP), which aims to support ‘bottom-up’ innovation in agriculture. The charity is lead partner of a soils programme, funded by the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB). The aim of this 3-year programme is to inspire and support fruit and vegetable growers to develop the ability and confidence to assess the health of their soils and take practical measures to improve the management of their soils. The programme has reviewed soil health assessment strategies through grower consultations and has published an initial report for farmers and land managers. Focusing on biological, chemical and physical indicators, the review catalogued established soil assessment methods but also introduced new tools such as balance methods, which will be, explored in future field labs, technical workshops and training materials. The organisation has facilitated a series of soils workshops; presenting the economic and environmental benefits of improving soil health and reducing chemical inputs to largely non-organic arable farmers. They are also facilitating a UK wide Knowledge Exchange Programme including working with agronomists and Estate Managers as well as farmers. The charity already delivers programmes providing farmers with scientific backing, research techniques, expert advice and targeted research funding. They are developing a UK-wide network of farmer groups who drive innovation in their sectors and localities, improving productivity, soils, biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, animal welfare and food quality. Their work has been recognised by the European Commission and Defra as an exemplar for the European Innovation Partnership (EIP), which aims to support ‘bottom-up’ innovation in agriculture. Over the past three years the charity has involved almost 4,000 UK farmers in pilot projects and knowledge exchange. Of these, 750 have taken part in hands-on ‘field labs’, where farmers test new approaches with support from a facilitator and researcher. The field labs have tackled more than 30 topics, including blackgrass control, eliminating peat use and evaluating sustainable animal feeds. Through these pilot projects they have significant learning; both of how such innovation groups work in practice and best practice solutions to specific issues. As part of consortia under this project they would work with a network of organisations to share learning about innovation approaches generally. In addition, they would share their farmer learning on specific topics that have already been investigated or are in the process of being researched. The charity would ensure the knowledge and end-user material would feed into the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) ‘Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability’ for broad dissemination to farmers and other actors in agriculture.