Small-scale growers urged to diversify

Delegates at Organic Research Centre conference advised to generate alternative income streams.

Small-scale growers of edible crops looking to diversify should consider cut flowers or Christmas trees or even keeping chickens as alternative revenue streams, last month's Organic Research Centre (ORC) conference heard.

Arjen Huese, a biodynamic grower and lecturer from West Sussex, said: "I don't have enough land to make a living from vegetables. But I had to learn how to grow cut flowers as I went along - there's no book to teach you."

Operating in a market dominated by importers and multiples means finding a local niche, he added. "There are some flowers you can't grow cost-effectively - roses are a commodity crop and bulb crops are piled high and sold cheap. But sweet peas can be lucrative. Sunflowers are the only yellow flowers that sell though."

Huese said while small-scale produce growers tend to sell direct to the consumer, through farmers' markets or box schemes: "It makes more sense to sell flowers through local florists and even wholesalers. 'Locally grown' is a plus for weddings, less so for funerals."

South Wales grower John Roberts has just harvested his first Christmas trees, six years after planting. Describing the plantation of Norway spruce and Nordmann fir as "a pension plan", he said his customers were encouraged to visit and choose their own tree, which gives him a point of differentiation.

ORC adviser Roger Hitchings said: "Selling vegetables on their own can be challenging. It is worth thinking about how you can extend your range."

Diversification - Supplying organic eggs

Organic egg supplier Jason Horner keeps 45 hens on his farm in western Ireland. The birds combine well with cropping, he said. "They provide good manure and will incorporate green manures into the soil."

He sells direct to the consumer at markets rather than through shops, which would make him a packer, he explained. "But they are the first thing to sell, even though they have a price premium from being organic."

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