Suffolk-based freelance Richard Shepherd-Barron jumped at the opportunity arranged through the Guild and ENAJ to report on organic commercial horticulture in Holland and Belgium on a DG-Agri facility trip.
“It was a very interesting and extremely well organised trip with all the travel arrangements made for me via Eurostar working smoothly, and with very friendly hospitality from the DG-Agri media staff in Brussels and the Netherlands,” says Richard. “I learned a great deal from this study trip, which presented some excellent copy for features published in Commercial Greenhouse Grower and other specialist titles in this sector.”
The three-day trip was arranged for European agricultural journalists from print and visual media – 15 EU countries were represented – under the guidance of Monika Sikorska and Cornelia Smet, with Guild member Roger Waite (EC spokesperson for agriculture and rural development) discussing the CAP and other matters as the group travelled by coach to three organic farms.
The first was a small family-run operation that started nearly a hundred years ago specialising in sales of their own and local organic produce (meat, dairy and fresh produce) from their farm shop.
“They also provide team-building activities and birthday parties, which attract 10,000 visitors a year, and cookery classes in the well-equipped kitchen,” reports Richard, who is pictured above right in charge of omelette production after participants were encouraged to became involved in creating their lunch!
An organic dairy farm next on the schedule milks 70 cows (mainly local cross-bred Fleckvieh plus red and white Meuse-Rhine-Issel) on 60 hectares of mainly grass, with 400-500,000kg of milk supplied to EKO Holland, a co-operative of 120 organic dairy farmers. The farm converted to organic in 1993 – the first in that region of the Netherlands to do so – and owner Marco van Liere took over running the farm four years ago when his father retired.
“About an hour away, the last farm on our tour produces organic tomatoes and peppers under 3.6 hectares of glass on two sites,” reports Richard, “with cucumbers, aubergines, courgettes and asparagus also produced organically on sites considered ideal because they are surrounded by woodland, which considerably reduces the possibility of airborne diseases.”
Produce is virtually all sold to the Naturelle organic division of The Greenery, with everything grown in soil rather than an artificial medium, beneficial insects used every week for pest control, and captive bees help to propogate peppers. Jorrit Jonkers, who works with his father and mother running this very successful business, clearly believes that organic products are the basis of healthy living; and plenty of other do too, because they can sell everything they grow!
The final day in Brussels involved a session on organic farming across the EU, an insight into AG-Press.eu, the e-platform for journalists reporting on European agri-policy and politics, and information about the audio-visual services of the European Commission from Michelle Gill.
“This was followed by visits to the Council of the European Union, where the press officer for agriculture and fisheries, Xavier Pavard, explained the working methods in the Council and how we could find and use the tools and information available to journalists,” notes Richard. “Finally, we took in the European Parliament, where the high standard and quality of the buildings, meeting rooms and parliament areas were noted as Jan Jakubov, the European Parliament press officer, showed us how the press service is organised.”