Current trends in the organic fruit and vegetable market in Scotland

As we head towards the closing months of 2017, the catchy harvest weather means that growers and producers have been really stretched for time as they work hard to maintain crop quality whilst the elements are not on their side.

If you can imagine farmers rushing from combine to baler and everywhere in between to get the harvest in as the rain starts to pour, the unreliable British weather continues to flummox even the most experienced agricultural professionals, you’ll have an idea of what the industry is experiencing.

Farming is a constant cycle of growing, harvesting, and preparing, and farmers in Scotland and the rest of the UK are often controlled by the weather, which can affect the depths of science that organic farming relies on.

When it comes to SOPA certified organic farms in Scotland, carrots are the most widely produced field-scale organic vegetable, followed by organic potatoes. The carrot business is heavily reliant on straw from the summer grain harvest, which is overlaid on the growing carrots to insulate them against winter frosts, so now is the time of year to reap the straw in significant quantities for bedding down the carrot crop.

Carrots in Scotland are planted over the summer months to then be harvested from the fields from Christmas onwards until into the spring months, thus giving the consumer the freshest produce harvested just days before they are sold in the supermarket. It is these winter carrots that are protected by tonnes of straw.

After the harvest (next spring) the straw is mulched by machines and then incorporated into the soil, providing organic matter to feed soil biology and fertility for the next growing crop.

To help the decomposition of the straw, farmers grow leguminous plants such as clover, which uses complex plant chemistry to synthesise nitrogen from the air into the soil profile and into the root zone for growing plants. Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plant growth, and for organic farmers, who are not permitted to use artificial chemical fertilisers, clover is the single most important natural source of this essential plant nutrient.

Current organic market
Based on the latest organic statistics released by DEFRA earlier this year, more than 70 per cent of Scotland’s organic farmers are members of the Scottish Organic Producers Association (SOPA), with their land and produce certified to the SOPA Scottish Organic standards.

As part of a SOPA members mandatory annual inspection field-by-field cropping details are gathered each year. This gives us information on the various crops grown and cropping areas. Plus, importantly allows us to ensure that the organic standards for a balanced crop rotation are met to aid maintenance of soil fertility and control of weeds, pests and diseases. A well-designed crop rotation, with the inclusion of legumes, is an essential component of an organic production system.

Below are the total areas of land used to grow the main organic vegetable crops produced by SOPA’s specialist vegetable growers:

Growers chartThe statistics for the past year reflect the fact that there is no longer a SOPA certified producer growing field scale swede, a contract which was supermarket driven.

Although the organic vegetable growers are greater in number, we do have a number of SOPA producers growing fruit for a number of different purposes.

These include a member in Shetland growing grapes and native Shetland kale, one growing blackcurrants in the Highlands who is on the lookout for buyers for next season, and a producer in Fife of organic strawberries, raspberries and salad leaves.

We also have a producer on the shores of Loch Ness growing rhubarb who is on the lookout for a supplier of organic vodka so they can go back to making organic rhubarb vodka. Perhaps we could find an organic potato grower out there who might want to diversify into potato vodka production?!

This year we have also had an enquiry for organic gooseberries to be 6used as an ingredient for a new organic craft beer. Sadly, the gooseberry enquiry came a bit late in the season and we couldn’t source enough, but watch out for another year!

Wider conversations
With the increased interest in topics such as ‘clean eating’ and ‘wellness’, organic food and drink is continuing to increase in popularity. More and more people are becoming conscious of where their food comes from, which is a step in the right direction for the organic industry in the UK.

It’s important to look at the impact that social media is having on the health and fitness trend. With people Instagramming their latest meal or their current foodie obsession, it’s become the norm for people to share what’s on their plates.

As an example, some of the hashtags that are used regularly on Instagram are based around health, nutrition and wellness. A quick Instagram search revealed that, at the time of writing, there were over 33 million uses of the #CleanEating hashatag, over 23 million uses of #Organic and almost 13 million posts with the hashtag #Wellness.

At the time of writing, the Organic Trade Board are currently running their #FeedYourHappy campaign, which encourages people to make an emotional connection to organic food by promoting the important messages behind organic food; that it means high animal welfare, fewer pesticides, no artificial additives, preservatives or routine use of antibiotics.

Campaigns such as this, their ‘Wake Up To Organic’ campaign, and Scotland Food & Drink’s ‘One Thing Fortnight’ continue to teach people about the benefits of both organic and Scottish food and drink.

Another hot topic that has hit the headlines recently has been the use of ‘fake farms’, used by supermarkets to make products look locally-sourced and to give the consumer a connection to where their food is coming from.

Unfortunately, the likes of Boswell Farms are nothing more than a figment of the imagination. The reaction of consumers, however, showed that more and more people are looking for accountability when it comes to being able to trace where their food comes from. Organic food and drink production must be inspected by law. As a result, organically certified products can be traced back through the supply chain to source. Look out for the EU organic leaf logo when you are out shopping to verify organic status of a product. If the SOPA logo is also used this indicates that the product has been produced by one of our members to the SOPA Scottish Organic Standards.

Formed in 1988 as an independent and provident society, the Scottish Organic Producers Association (SOPA) remains the UK’s only co-operative organic organisation. Whether you’re a farm, croft, box scheme, cheesemaker, or butcher, when your business seeks organic certification, they automatically become a member of the SOPA co-operative.

SOPA works to teach producers and consumers about the benefits or organic and sustainable produce. Their members range from fruit and vegetable producers to chocolate makers and breweries.