Minutes of the 8th Annual General Meeting
Organic Growers Alliance
Place: Brookthorpe Village Hall, Stroud Rd, Brookthorpe
Date: 21st March, 2015
Present: Phil Sumption, Isabeau Meyer-Graff, Mark Harrison, Pete Dollimore, Will Johnson, Tim Deane, Ben Raskin, Susie Hitchings, Jan Deane, Roger Hitchings, Francis Rayns, Debra Schofield, Alan Schofield, Tony Little, John Roberts, Patsy Chapman, Hugh Chapman, Dan Newbery, Pete Richardson, Kate Collyns, Vina Hogg, Mark Stay, Rebecca Laughton, Sonia Oliver, Mel Botting, Susi Seward, Page Dykstra, Anja Vieweger, Jim Aplin, Hayley Moreland, John Crocker, Liz Findlay, Rowie Mears, Mattias Enrous
Welcome and housekeeping: Mark Harrison
Apologies/Officers for the meeting: Apologies were received from: Patrick Noble, David Butt, Keely Watson, Sophy Newton, Mick Marston, Angela Norman, Antonia Ineson, Alyson Lawson, Chris Stopes, Mike Fisher, Gill Faiers, Hugh Collins, Jonathan Smith, Carolyn Wacher, Iain Tolhurst, David Butt, Wendy Seel, James Smith, Jason Horner
Meeting chairman: Jan Deane
Minute taker: Roger Hitchings
Additions/changes to the agenda: It was agreed to discuss a new productivity research project under Item 9.
As the chairman and treasurer were running late the order of the agenda was changed – business was conducted in the order of the items in these minutes (Items 3, 4, 5 & 6 were deferred)
Approval of the minutes from the 2014 AGM:
It was proposed by Tony Little and seconded by Kate Collyns that the minutes of the 2014 annual general meeting be adopted as a true record. Carried unanimously
- Draft minutes on website – this possibility was raised at the last AGM. It is felt that seeing them for the first time at the following AGM makes it difficult to evaluate them before approving them. There is no reason why draft minutes could not be put up. Secretary agreed to produce minutes by May at the latest and post to website with committee approval. Action RH
- Accounts – the accounts figures for 2013 were not approved at the last AGM because of cut and paste errors. It was proposed at the time to send amended accounts to members for approval but this did not happen. The committee had seen and approved the changes. It was proposed by Hugh Chapman and seconded by Will Johnson that the 2013 accounts be retrospectively adopted. Carried unanimously
- Accounts presentation – a request was made last year that accounts should be presented as budget versus actual. To be discussed under financial report.
- Member organised events and 2014 events – to be discussed under Events.
Membership and Website Reports
These were delivered by Pete Dollimore with contributions from Tony Little for reasons that will become obvious. It has been difficult to separate 2014 from 2015 because of the ongoing issues that are described below.
- In summary the website has been functioning poorly because of the combined effects of a hack in November 2014 and the change of membership software in early 2014. It is now (March 2015) back up and running quite well with one or two glitches still to sort out.
- Tony Little will be taking over full responsibility for membership matters in 2015 which will free Pete up to concentrate on the website.
- Membership numbers as presented in the Annual Report are 141 – this is significantly down on the numbers reported last year. This is partly to do with the hack because it stopped us sending reminders out. In response to a question Pete said that there were some 300 members on the database.
- We are always attracting new members but some only stay for a year. Some get fed up with the process on the website and do not renew. Once the website glitches are sorted reminders will be back on track.
- Tony said that it was important to tie up the loose ends and make it easy to pay. Once everything was fully back on track it will be important to grow the membership and reel in lapsed members. He will be developing a strategic plan that will include social media; strategic links to LWA, Groundspring and the CSA Network; combined membership possibilities; etc. Action: TL Tony’s proactive approach to developing the membership was welcomed.
- There were further questions about membership numbers and renewals of lapsed members. It was clear that real terms numbers have dropped and that positive engagement was needed to redress the situation following the problems. Aspects such as automatic renewal (with easy opt-out) and donations features were now operational and obvious.
- Pete noted that it was not an OGA targeted hack – many other Drupal 7 sites were also attacked. There is a detailed write up of the problems in the OG.
- Ben suggested a show of appreciation for Pete and his efforts to keep things going when under pressure. Applause.
- There was some discussion about the website itself and what direction it should take. Pete said that running the site was essentially a matter of keeping the basics going. The site becomes more complicated the more we try to do – it is already one of the more complicated Drupal sites.
- We ought to look at the various features and decide how valuable and useful they are – are we duplicating what others are doing?
- There is some concern over the ability of the website manager – very useful in setting the whole thing up but not so good at keeping on top of problems. Should we change? Can we get better value for money? This is still an open question and the committee will need to look into it. Action: Ctte It could cost more if we change but it could be better.
- Phil reported that all had gone relatively smoothly. 4 issues were produced more or less on time thanks to the support of the Editorial Committee (Carolyn Wacher, Kate Collyns, John Crocker and Sam Eglington).
- The magazine always needs more grower profiles, strong technical articles for growers and suggestions for in-depth interviews.
- There have been 67 contributors over the life of the magazine so far.
- Pete said that the magazine was brilliant and was the main feature of membership. Applause for Phil and the team.
- There was some discussion about advertising income. Some advertisers say that they get the best response to OG adverts. Rates are presently unchanged and various discounts are available.
- Debra strongly suggested that rates should be increased so that the income makes a greater contribution to magazine costs. It was suggested that membership fees should be the main support for the OG and to beware increasing rates too sharply.
- Phil noted that inserts such as the one from Elsoms/RZ brought in enough income to cover postage costs.
- Members have access to all the back copies of the OG and this is a good incentive for new members. There is a risk of abuse but it is low level – restricting access could lead to more complications.
- The committee will review the discount system with a view to encouraging prompter payments of advertising fees. Action: Ctte
Wendy Seel was not present so the meeting was referred to the annual report for details.
- Rebecca Laughton reported on some research being carried out by the Landworkers Alliance assisted by funding from Coventry University. The aim of the work was to determine the productivity of small scale farmers and growers.
- Rebecca urged growers in the room to fill in the questionnaire that is the main plank of the work. The results should be of assistance to all organisations intent on lobbying governments for better incentives. They will be published across a range of platforms but they could go either way.
- The survey ends on 26th April and following the crunching of the numbers visits will be made to the more productive holdings for interviews. Preliminary results could be available later in 2015 with the full report due sometime in 2016.
- Tony Little referred to a Welsh Government request (with funding) for ideas for improving access to support for smaller growers. The new Rural Development Plan (RDP) is now more or less set in stone so the next opportunity for change is 2020. Consultations will be starting sooner than that so good data will be very helpful in making a strong case.
Two committee members are standing down having completed their 3 year term. Wendy Seel is standing for re-election while Pete Dollimore is standing down although he will continue as website manager. He was thanked by a further round of applause.
- Wendy Seel was proposed by Alan Schofield and seconded by Tony Little. In the absence of any other nominations Wendy Seel was elected unopposed.
- The committee now has 11 members. The committee has the potential to co-opt additional members during the year. In a brief discussion about links to Groundspring and the LWA it was thought that occasionally contributing to Skype meetings was a better way forward than co-option to the committee.
The meeting reverted to earlier agenda items with the arrival of Alan and Debra following serious delays due to an accident on the M5.
- Alan summarised the activities of the OGA during 2014 including a number of committee Skype meetings, engagement with the ORC Producer Conferences (2 in 2014), attendance at the SA Farmer & Grower Board, the AGM at Cotesbach, engagement with Defra and attendance at IFOAM-EU Group and English Organic Forum meetings at ORC among a number of other activities.
- The meetings at ORC led to a letter to Defra promoting a greater emphasis on agroecology and questioning the small-scale producer support mechanisms. The idea that holdings of less than 5 hectares are only hobby farms is still prevalent despite the fact that small-scale horticulture is demonstrably very productive and financially viable. Support for certification fees was felt to be the bare minimum but little has been heard. There is an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on agroecology which is engaging.
- There have been regional consultations on CAP reform and Welsh Government is intending to pay a higher rate of horticultural support than in England and credit is due to Organic Centre Wales for their work on this.
- The Abel & Cole engagement in an SA membership drive to the exclusion of other box schemes was discussed intensely at Farmer & Grower Board and SA agreed to run a second campaign involving smaller schemes.
- There have been 2 cases of growers being caught out by aminopyralid despite the publication of strict guidelines following its reintroduction.
- Alan gave credit to Defra for consulting more widely on the new EU Regulation than in the past. The OGA is now represented on the committee but is the lone horticultural voice. There are a number of concerns about the draft including dual certification and a troubling definition of hydroponics.
- Alan has attended a number of events in the NW representing OGA.
- The LWA AGM in November was very vibrant and interesting meeting.
- The OGA sponsored attendance for 14 apprentices and future growers at the combined SA Symposium and ORC conference.
- On committee matters Alan thanked Tony for agreeing to take on the membership and Pete for dedication to the website above and beyond the call of duty. He will be continuing to identify members interested in taking on the duties of vice-chair as part of a natural transition process.
- Wendy is a member of the Scottish Organic Action Plan Group (the only one in the UK regions) and is still engaged in discussions with a couple of research proposals.
- The committee is looking at ways of working with like-minded organisations and Tony has suggested committee cross –representation and the inclusion of the CSA network. There are bid issues where we all need to work together and combined membership represents a 1000+ body of opinion. Action: Ctte
Discussion on aspects of the report:
- The idea of cross-representation was good but some thought should be given to exactly how this would work. Committee memberships or close liaison? Another approach might to hold twice yearly meetings where all the organisations gather to talk about the big issues. Some members are already working with other organisations such as Groundspring. The committee will be discussing this at an early Skype meeting.
- The proposed EU Organic Regulation was discussed and it was noted that the consultation was skewed by strong consumer input from a small number of Member States. The first draft responded to this input by taking a very principled approach and one effect of this was to rule out all derogations – this has serious implications for organic horticulture.
- Many voices across the EU are saying that we do not need a new regulation and we should focus on improving the existing legislation. The Commission has noted that if agreement cannot be reached by June 2015 then the process will be abandoned.
- Other concerns include the possibility of a zero tolerance approach to residues and a backwards step on transplants and modules because of issues over hydroponics and aquaponics, approaches that are allowed in the National Organic Programme (NOP) in the US. They are not allowed in current EU Regulations but there is a question around equivalence.
- To their credit Defra have been making progress in making changes to the draft regulation.
- The figures are shown in the annual report and on the face of it they are looking quite good but there are elements of expenditure that are not shown such as sponsorship which was not paid during the reporting period. Printing and publication are up because of payment overlaps, website costs are down but some have been carried over to 2015, chair’s expenses are down and most other minor elements have been more or less static.
- There was some discussion about membership which has already been covered but the essential conclusion is that membership is down but this has been masked in financial terms by the £10 increase in fees.
- The action about presenting the accounts in actual versus budget format has not been carried out but will be for the next reporting period
Ben Raskin proposed that the accounts be approved seconded by Pete Dollimore. Carried unanimously.
- Debra suggested that membership could be nearer £5k over the coming year as opposed to £7.5k. She believed that membership should aim at returning to 2014 levels in order to maintain the higher income level. IT costs could rise if we change website manager. A prudent approach would be to continue to maintain a buffer of 1 year’s expenses.
- There was some variation when comparing the 2014 budget to actual performance but it was not great and could be explained. The 2015 budget is more or less the same as 2014 but there are uncertainties in that membership income and website costs are essentially unknown at the time of putting the budget together – if membership income reaches £8.5k the budget will be fine. The need for the same headings for both the accounts and budget was noted and will be actioned for next time. Action: DS
- The need for a healthy reserve was questioned – could some of it not be put to better use to really sort the website and to support the membership drive with leaflets and event attendance.
- There was discussion around using reserves to increase membership. There is still work to do on working out who was due for renewal at the time of the hack. The long-lapsed members should be the main target. It would be useful to track the effects of increased spending and also to find out why people join.
- The membership can help by taking leaflets, spreading the word, attending events, etc.
- It was proposed by Will Johnson and seconded by Mark Harrison that the committee should have flexibility to use reserves to work on a major membership drive. Carried unanimously
- The budget should include similar headings to the accounts such as AGM expenses, bank charges, accountant’s fees, etc. Action: DS
- It was proposed by Kate Collyns and seconded by Mark Stay that the budget be accepted subject to the above additions. Carried unanimously
Appointment of Accountant
- It was proposed by Debra Schofield and seconded by Alan Schofield that David Cuff of Marsham Accountants be re-appointed as accountant to the OGA. Carried unanimously.
- Tony Little summarised the year’s activity. The OGA contributed to the ORC producer conferences by organising horticulture workshops, there was indirect involvement with a number of Field Labs, we have promoted other events but no OGA events took place despite the action point from the last AGM.
- The committee has offered support to member-organised events but no requests were received in 2014.
- There will be an events component to the membership drive discussed above but it will be promotional rather than technical. As an example Tony is working with LWA on an event for the Spring Festival at the Royal Welsh Showground (formerly the Smallholders show). This could serve as a model for future activities such as an OGA led event in England that attracts attention.
- Reference was made to the BOF/OGA technical events that were run mainly in the 80s as being very popular and successful. The RZ/SA event was described as excellent.
- It was suggested that we look at running one national event with salad perhaps as the common theme. It will be vital to generate interest and to select the venue with care. We could look at encouraging members to engage with each other and share travel. The feeling in the room was that we should aspire to this and make it happen by working together.
- Mark Stay suggested that he could possibly offer a venue. His horticultural holding is part of a larger organic farm and camping will be possible. A possible format could be based around 1 main speaker, a farm walk, and a social get-together. Committee will carry this forward.
Any Other Business
- Anja Vieweger spoke briefly about European Innovation Partnerships (EIP) which are aimed at encouraging innovation and improving existing innovative initiatives. Websites could fall into the latter and boosting the existing OGA Forum is a possibility. Funding levels are between £5k and £150k spread over 3 years and most costs are covered. It is a group approach and at least two producers/organisations must be involved.
- Ben noted that the DOFF programme is cited as best practice which should be borne in mind if this is followed up. The committee will receive a presentation at a future Skype meeting
- CSA Network – Ben described the network briefly and encouraged people to join and/or encourage other people and organisations to join
The Wacher Award
- Insufficient work had been received for an award at the time of the AGM
The OGA Award
Phil Sumption spoke movingly about the length, depth and quality of the horticultural research carried out by HDRA/Garden Organic over more than 20 years. He then went on to present the 2015 OGA award to Francis Rayns who had been a key member of the research team right through until his recent redundancy. Francis noted that he was still involved in project work along with another former HDRA researcher Gareth Davies.
Chairman’s Closing Remarks
The meeting chairman thanked Mark Harrison of Stroud CSA for making us welcome and organising venue, catering, beer, etc. The work of the committee, the minute taker and the cake makers was also acknowledged.
The AGM was followed by a tour of the Stroud CSA production areas, one site was in the village itself while the other required a short minibus drive to access.
RH 14th April, 2015