Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Richard Jacobs - Organic Farmers & Growers Ltd
How old are you?
What’s your occupation and who do you work for?
Chief Executive of Organic Farmers & Growers, one of the UK’s leading organic certification bodies and the first approved by the Government to carry out the inspection and licensing of organic food and farming.
How long have been doing this?
I’ve been at OF&G since 2000 starting as a Certification Officer, then Certification Manager and now Chief Exec.
What is it about your job that makes it ethical?
We’re supporting and promoting organic food, farming and other enterprises, such as cosmetics. In addition we now inspect and licence composting (not just organic) on behalf of The Composting Association. All of these areas contribute to the best and most efficient use of resources, the protection of the environment and the welfare of animals. In the case of composting it’s about turning what could otherwise be waste into a useful, sustainable product.
What’s the best bit about your job? Feeling that I’m doing my bit for activities that will take some of the strain off the planet. And on a more personal level I hope that we’re making organics accessible to more farmers and food producers who already have plenty of red tape to navigate through.
What’s the worst thing?
Dealing with bureaucracy, particularly at the European level, where sometimes rules are made with little discussion and without full consideration of the realities of farming and food production.
What have the last 12 months been like for you?
Both good and bad. Organics is growing strongly and more and more people are understanding what it means and the benefits it delivers. On the flipside we’ve been faced with many problems this year in the form of foot and mouth, bluetongue and now avian flu. These are putting real pressure on farmers, who are a large part of our client base, in many ways, most of which are not immediately visible to their customers; the public.
What were you doing before this?
I was Farm Manager for the Organic Research Centre, Elm Farm, an organic farm in Berkshire.
What was your very first full-time job?
Stacking shelves in a supermarket.
What advice would you give to someone wishing to embark on the same sort of work as you?
I think in this field it’s crucial to believe passionately in what you are doing. Organics is still finding its place in the world so we are all ambassadors and need to be able to communicate the benefits to those we meet and those we can influence.
Have you got any plans for the next 12 months you’d like to share with us?
With the addition of composting licensing and other projects we’ve had a busy year, so the next 12 months will be about consolidation in some areas, but hopefully with continued steady growth. We’ve got some events planned and there are important messages to spread, not least about getting more arable farmers to produce the organic crops we desperately need. Besides that, it’s sometimes hard to know what’s around the corner in this arena!
What do you do to relax?
I enjoy socialising, walking, reading, watching movies and the occasional glass of wine.
Whereabouts do you live?
In the lovely Shropshire county town of Shrewsbury, where OF&G has its headquarters.
If you were Prime Minister, what’s the very first thing you would do?
I’d put an immediate halt to the impending threat of the pollution of our countryside by genetically modified organisms. The Government seems determined to move towards introducing these unnatural elements into our landscape and we don’t know what the consequences will be. The hardest hit are likely to be the organic farmers. We don’t allow any GM in organic produce, so if they suffer cross-contamination from GM fields they will lose the benefits of their hard work and payback for their higher costs because they won’t be able to sell their produce on the organic market. So far there isn’t even a clear policy on whether they would be compensated. We say the polluter should pay but we’re far from certain that’s what the Government is thinking.
As cheap and easily available oil is expect to run out in the next couple of decades, what do you think will be the predominant form of transport in 2027? Probably similar to what we use now but with cleaner fuels and more efficient engines. I’m not sure that biofuels are going to be anything like the whole answer and they risk taking land away from food production. We’re probably going to have to rely heavily on the scientists and engineers for this one…
Have you got any guilty carbon secrets?
Not that I can think of. I grow my own organic fruit and veg and make my own compost. I do have to fly for work sometimes, but we ensure we carbon offset the whole company’s footprint for travel and other impacts.
What have you done that you were most proud of?
Made my children smile.
What single issue are you most concerned about in the world at large?
I think this has to come back to the GM issue. We are on the cusp of widely spreading combinations of genes that nature would never allow and we don’t have any idea of the long-term consequences of that. Nature usually finds a way of dealing with aberrations, but is it equipped to deal with this one?
Which person in the public eye do you most admire and why?
It’s not the people in the public eye that tend to grab my attention. The people that really impress me are the dedicated staff at OF&G and the many amazing clients that we serve who are making organics the success it is.
What’s your website address? www.organicfarmers.org.uk
What are your three favourite other websites of the moment?
I don’t really have favourite websites, I do surf many sites related to organic, food, agriculture and wider issues and I use Netvibes a lot, it’s an aggregator for RSS feeds and other features, which helps me stay in touch with news and events.