Organic Farming 108

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Ask the experts Our range of specialist advisers answer your questions on subjects including feather pecking, green manures and more


We are looking at setting up a farmers’ market stall next year. Do you have any key advice?


Farmers’ markets are hard work. But if you like meeting people and have a flair for selling, they are great fun – and offer a reasonable income stream. Farmers’ markets are defined by the people who sell at them, namely farmers and artisan food producers, selling what they have grown, reared or made themselves. Businesses must be located within the market’s definition of ‘local’ – usually 30 miles but it can vary. You, or someone directly connected with production, must also sell at the stall. The National Farmers’ Retail and Markets Association (FARMA) certifies farmers’ markets to ensure that they operate within the criteria listed above, but each market is operated independently and the manager(s) will decide if they can accept new stallholders. But before you get anywhere near a stall you must register with your local environmental health team and trading standards as a food producer and retailer. They will probably want to visit your production premises, including your home kitchen if this is where you will work, to ensure you meet statutory requirements. So allocate time for this before planning your first market appearance. There are no exemptions for food safety and weights and measures as far as farmers’ markets go, but you do get some leeway on labelling. For advice about selling direct visit uk. The Food Standards Agency website ( has an excellent section called ‘Safer Food, Better Business’. Don’t forget our website: Rita Exner


I have recently taken on a glasshouse. What advice do you have on preventing pests and diseases?


Research the history of the glasshouse and focus your efforts accordingly. Soil-based disease may influence the crops you can grow. I wouldn’t recommend steam sterilisation, but caliente mustard can reduce nematodes, while bacterial and fungal-based soil inoculants are highly effective. Healthy soil biology is the key to successful organic growing. Pest and disease pressures are often due to incorrect fertility. If you plan to use fertilisers do so only with sound analysis-based recommendations, otherwise stick to quality compost and crop rotation. Natural parasites and predators will keep

48 Organic Farming Winter 2011

This issue’s experts




Kate Still is animal welfare adviser at the Soil Association, working on the AssureWel project, a five year multispecies collaborative welfare project. kstill@

Ian Wilkinson is director of Cotswold Seeds and is a member of the Grass Seed Working Group, with 25 year’s experience in the seed trade. ianw@

Roger Hitchings is head of advisory services at the Organic Research Centre (Elm Farm) with over 20 years experience in organic systems. 01554 810158




Peter Plate is a practicing farm vet in Dorset with a special interest in organic farming, and is a member of the Soil Association agriculture standards committee.

Peter Dollimore grows at Hankham Organics with 0.6ha glasshouses and 1ha field crops, selling via a box scheme and also to wholesale markets. www.

Rita Exner is association secretary at the National Farmers’ Retail and Markets Association (FARMA), dedicated to supporting the local direct sales sector.

bugs in check, so manage for biodiversity, too. Pressure washing the structure will improve light levels and reduce over wintering pests, but may disturb valuable predators such as ladybirds. Hot water is really the only option if fungal or bacterial disease is present in the structure. Clear any debris that might harbour slugs, caterpillars and rodents. Disinfect old pots and trays with peracetic acid or Citrox P (which must not come into contact with soil). Keep weeds under control to avoid viruses, as aphid will transfer disease from infected weeds. Try a range of crops and resistant varieties to see what does best; identifying mildew, aphid, virus and soil-borne disease resistance will improve your chances, as will grafted rootstock. Appropriate sowing times will avoid stress and maximise resistance. Familiarise yourself with common pests, and biological and non-biological control products available. Consider drawing up a biological control programme with your supplier or, at the very least, monitor your crops closely and be ready to buy in the relevant bio-control. Peter Dollimore

Write to us Got a question? Need some help? We will do our best to put it to a technical expert. Write to: ‘Ask the expert’ Organic Farming South Plaza Marlborough Street Bristol BS1 3NX 0117 314 5000 pmundy@ Always consult your your certification body if in any doubt.

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