Anna Becvar - Earthcare Technical
Ben Raskin - Head of Horticulture, Soil Association
Carlo Leifert - Nafferton Ecological Farming Group
Craig Sams - Carbon Gold
Dr Dan Carpenter - Natural History Museum
Dr Elizabeth Stockdale - University of Newcastle
Helen Browning - Chief Executive, Soil Associatio
Jim Twine - Business Development Director, Soil Association
Luca Marmo - European Commission
Professor Michael Raviv - Agricultural Research Organisation of Israel
Mike Townsend - Woodland Trust
Paul Alexander - Royal Horticultural Society
Peter Melchett - Soil Association
Richard Higgins - New Directions Foundation
Sam Adams - Low Carbon Farming Project
Stephen Briggs - Abacus Organic Associates
Tim Chamen - Controlled Traffic Farming
Ulf Ullring - Nordic Savory Institute
Vinodh Krishnamuthy - Microbiologist

Anna Becvar studied Soils and Plant Nutrition at Wye. She has a farming background and has worked in land based industries for over 20 years. In 2000 she moved into consultancy, and set up Earthcare Technical in  2008, which provides advice to farmers, growers and advisers on soil, water and waste management.   She is particularly interested in compost and digestate  and is a specialist adviser to WRAP, and is involved in Defra-funded R&D projects.

Ben Raskin has been working in horticulture for 18 years. He is currently Head of Horticulture at the Soil Association and also works freelance as a horticultural advisor. Recent projects include work for The Community Farm near Bristol and Carbon Gold.  Ben has a wide range of experience working with growers at all levels of production. His own experience includes; running a walled garden in Sussex supplying a Michelin starred restaurant, working for Garden Organic at their gardens in Kent. Ben also set up and ran the 10 acre horticultural production at Daylesford organic Farm, before moving to the Welsh College of Horticulture as commercial manager.

Carlo Leifert was appointed as Research Development Professor for Ecological Agriculture at Newcastle University in 2000 and as Director of the Stockbridge Technology Centre Ltd (STC) in 2001. At Newcastle he is a member of the Food Security Network in the Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability (NIReS) leads the Nafferton Ecological Farming Group (NEFG) which currently manages:

  • EU and DEFRA funded R&D projects focused on improving resource use efficiency, productivity and food quality and safety in organic and ‘low input’ crop and livestock production systems and
  • the MSc course in “Ecological food and farming systems”

He has successfully co-ordinated large EU R&D projects under framework 4 (Improbioseed), 5 (BrightMOP)  and 6 (QualityLowInputFood) and currently co-ordinates two FP7 large collaborative R&D projects (NUE-Crops and LowInputBreeds). Between 1999 and 2009 Carlo has worked as a consultant for TESCO, being a member of TESCO’s Food quality and Safety expert panel and advisory board of Nature’s choice/Nurture, which is TESCO’s quality assurance auditing system for its global produce supplier base. He is currently a :
(a) Visiting Professor at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science,
(b) member of the academic advisory board (Beirat) of the von Thünen Institute (the German federal Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry)
(c) member of the BENAKI Phytopathological Institute (the leading Greek research institute for crop protection, agronomy and agroecology and the Greek regulatory authority for pesticides)

Prior to his appointment at Newcastle University he worked as a research manager in a plant biotechnology/breeding company (Neo Plants Ltd. 1986-1990), as technical director of a vegetable production and processing firm (Howegarden Ltd.; 1996-1999) and as a research fellow/lecturer at Manchester (1990-1993) and lecturer/SL at Aberdeen University (1993-2000).

As an agriculture apprentice/student he has worked on farms in Germany, Greece and Israel.

Craig Sams was born on a farm in Nebraska. In 1967 he and his brother Gregory founded Whole Earth Foods, expanding from an organic macrobiotic restaurant into retail, wholesaling and manufacturing. They published "Seed Magazine - The Journal of Organic Living” from 1971-1977.   In 1991, in partnership with Josephine Fairley, founded Green & Black's Organic Chocolate, the first product to carry the Fairtrade Mark. He is President of Green & Black’s, acquired by Cadbury’s in 2005 and subsequently by Kraft in 2010. He is a director of Duchy Originals, Soil Association Certification, Judges Bakery and Wellington Natural Health Centre. Author of:, The Little Food Book and The Story of Green & Black’s. Columnist in Natural Product News. Soil Association Treasurer from 1990-2001 and Chairman from 2001 to 2007. Founded Carbon Gold in 2008 to establish biochar as a means to restore degraded soils, enhance organic farming and sequester carbon dioxide to reverse climate change.

Dr Dan Carpenter is a Post-doctoral Research Assistant in the Soil Biodiversity Group at the Natural History Museum.  He completed a BSc in Wildlife Conservation at the University of East London and a PhD in Soil Science at the University of Reading.  His research interests are in understanding patterns of diversity of soil invertebrates and their role in ecosystem processes.  He is particularly interested in earthworms, their distribution in the UK and their roles in decomposition and mineral weathering process in soils.  Dan is the national recorder for earthworms and is training officer for the Earthworm Society of Britain.

Dr Elizabeth Stockdale is over-excited about soils and is currently a lecturer in the School of Agriculture Food and Rural Development at Newcastle University. She has been involved in a wide range of research projects connected with the study of nutrient cycling in soils and with the environmental impact of farming systems. She also maintains a strong link to organic farming and has carried out research into nutrient cycling (N, P, K) in organic farming systems.

Helen Browning;OBE – is a tenant farmer from Wiltshire and founded Eastbrook Farms Organic Meat and the Helen Browning brand of pork products.  Helen is the Chief Executive of the Soil Association in March 2011 and is also currently chair of the Food Ethics Council.  Prior to joining the Soil Association she was Director of External Affairs for the National Trust. She was a member of the Government’s Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food (‘the Curry Commission’) and chaired the England Animal Health and Welfare Implementation Group throughout its life (2005-2009). Helen was awarded an OBE in 1998 for services to organic farming, and is a fellow of the Royal Agricultural Society (FrAgs).

Jim Twine has worked for the Soil Association for over a decade and now, as Business Development Director, heads up the Trade Support Department. This has includes a wide range of responsibilities, from working with the retailers and helping grow the organic market through to providing advice to business considering organic and developing business opportunities for Soil Association symbol holders. Jim has spent most of his life being involved in food or farming. Having been born on his parents farm (after the vet came!) in Somerset, he went on to work on local traditional farms, in pubs and then during the last recession, ended up working in a windowless building for BT – not the high point of his career! After returning to education and completing his degree, Jim cam back to the South West and joined the Soil Association.  Jim is proud to be a Soil Association symbol holder, running Court Farm, which has been organic since 1969. This is now part of a share farming partnership with lifelong friend Luke Hasell. In total they farm over 500 acres of organic land and sell their produce through a brand they created called The Story that supplies organic beef, lamb, pork and poultry in partnership with Bill and Emma Yeats. Together they run a box scheme, a small farm shop, provide organic catering and supply independent retailers, local schools and restaurants. Jim is also a founder member of The Community Farm – a CSA developed in the heart of the Chew Valley that now has over 200 members. In his spare time Jim is a keen sportsman playing football, cricket and tennis and is very proud to have run the London Marathon in less than 3 hours.

Luca Marmo was born in Sanremo (Italy) in 1966 and graduated in Physics at the University of Genoa in 1993. He joined the European Commission in 1997 to work in the Waste Unit of the Environment Directorate-General on technical and legal issues concerning waste, in particular sewage sludge and biowaste management. His work has also included the development of a proposal for a directive on the management of waste from the extractive industry and the preparation of a European policy on natural resources. Since November 2005, he has joined the Agriculture, Forests and Soil Unit of the same Directorate-General and participated in the development of the Soil Thematic Strategy and the inter-institutional negotiations on the proposed Soil Framework Directive.

Prof. Michael Raviv is affiliated to the Agricultural Research Organization, Ministry of Agriculture, Israel and is located in Newe Ya’ar Research Center since 1979. For many years the focus of his work was plant production in various soilless media, which led him to initiate and to edit (together with Prof. J.H. Lieth, UC Davis), the book: Soilless culture – Theory and Practice (2008, Elsevier). Since 1993 Prof. Raviv is focus on Organic Agriculture. His main interest is in composting, different uses of composts and especially their use as suppressive agents against soil-borne diseases. Since 1995 Prof. Raviv is teaching the only academic course on Organic Agriculture in Israel, in the Hebrew University, Faculty of Agriculture, Rehovot. Over the years he published 83 papers in peer-reviewed journals, 14 chapters in books, 23 articles in professional magazines in English and 59 articles in professional magazines in Hebrew. In addition he edited or co-edited 7 books.

Mike Townsend's early career was in commercial horticulture, before moving in to Forestry. I have worked in both the private sector in commercial forestry, as well as the voluntary sector in the UK and in Kenya. For the last 17 years I have worked for the Woodland Trust, initially as Operations Director, and then Chief Executive. Following a break from work I am now a Senior Advisor in the Trust’s conservation team. I am a Fellow the Institute of Chartered Foresters, and have a degree in Forestry and a Masters degree in Environmental policy. I was awarded the OBE in 2003 for services to forestry.

Paul Alexander is a soil scientist by training but increasingly involved in a much wider research remit focusing largely on improving the sustainability of resource use in horticulture. The majority of his research programme examines soil management using organic materials, water management in peat-free growing media and understanding the science of home composting. He also has an interest in biochar, grey water sources / effects of use, green roof substrates and compostable packaging. Some of the research is core funded (by the RHS) but increasingly we are looking to undertake externally funded research via PhD’s and other contractual work that matches RHS science strategy. The majority of his research is aimed at improving the practice of gardeners but he is increasingly working with commercial growers and Defra, reflecting both research and policy requirements, and the recognition that the knowledge transfer between amateur and professional gardeners is a two-way process.

Peter Melchett is Policy Director of the Soil Association, the UK organic food and farming organisation, responsible for campaigns, standards and policy. He runs an 890-acre organic farm in Norfolk, with pigs, beef cattle and arable seed crops. He is a member of the Government’s Rural Climate Change Forum and the BBC’s Rural Affairs Committee. He was a member of the Government’s Organic Action Plan Group, and the Department of Education’s School Lunches Review Panel. He was a Special Lecturer in Biological Sciences, Nottingham University 1984-2002, was on the Board of the EU £12m Research Project ‘Quality Low Input Food’, and does some environmental consulting, for example with IKEA and ASDA. He was a Labour Government Minister 1974-79, at the Departments of Environment, Industry, and Northern Ireland (covering education and health). He was President or Chair of several conservation ngos, and was Director of Greenpeace UK (1985-2000), and chaired Greenpeace Japan (1995-2001).

Richard Higgins has completed a ten year, post graduate study, of the works of Sir Albert Howard while travelling and teaching from China to Hawaii. Richard has become a world leading exponent of this work. Richard presented the Howard (memorial) lecture 2009 at the University of Coventry, for Nigeria to ‘Go Organic’ (transcript sent to HRH The Prince of Wales, who made an immediate response). In 2010 he spent three months at the Haiti earthquake disaster on behalf of New Directions Foundation, where he set up an emergency remediation centre for the treatment of human waste. Since he has been deployed to Mozambique with The Royal Norweigan Society Noregesvel and to Uganda with SuSan Design. This technology is being deployed as world leading technology for the remediation of Cholera proof sanitation, Dog waste disposal, cat waste disposal or for any industrial organic waste stream. It meets all Environmental regulations and those of the ABP regs 142/2011.

Sam Adams runs the Low Carbon Farming project at the Soil Association. The project aims to support farmers to increase their resource efficiency and to decrease their farm's carbon footprint. An online, farm-specific, carbon calculator has been developed. Prior to this role, Sam has spent the last five years working with farmers in southern Africa, promoting sustainable land use and food security.

Stephen Briggs has worked with Organic systems in the UK and overseas in both consultancy and research roles for over 20 years. He has particular expertise in soil management, Organic arable crop production systems and organic business management. Stephen is a Director of “Abacus Organic Services Ltd” the leading independent organic consultants in the UK, with fourteen regionally based organic farming specialists covering all aspects of organic production, processing and retailing. He provides regular consultancy support to 40+ Organic farms & estates and is regularly facilitator on organic training courses. He has been a guest lecturer at Universities on organic farming and has held posts on the ACOS Certification Committee and Research and Development Committee for the UK organic sector. He is also a founding Director of the Institute of Organic Training and Advice. Stephen is the author of the definitive organic arable book 'Organic Cereal and Pulse Production'.

He has a particular interest in the development of organic farming systems without livestock, the use of green manures to manipulate soil nutrient dynamics and the development of bi-cropping systems to enhance yields through the better use of available soil nutrients. Stephen farms 270ha in Cambridgeshire and Rutland, with his wife and two daughters, growing organic cereals, pulses, specialist seed crops and operates the UK’s largest agroforestry system on 50ha, established in 2009, combining cereal and vegetable crops with apple fruit trees. Stephen is also a founding director of ‘Speedwell Farming Ltd’ the UK’s first dedicated organic farming company. This provides bespoke organic contract farming services for landowners, institutions and investors. He is passionate about organic farming believes that it offers a real alternative for of production and an enjoyable future for many farmers and land managers. Stephen was a 2011 Nuffield Farming Scholar studying agroforestry throughout Canada, USA, Europe, China and New Zealand. His is the current vice president of the European Agroforestry Association (EURAF) and is active in EU policy development to support agroforestry.

Tim Chamen spent 25 years at Silsoe Research Institute conducting research on tillage tool development and the effects of machinery compaction on soil and crop responses. Since leaving Silsoe in 1996 he has worked independently, undertaking contracts for machinery manufacturers, the EU and others on soil/machine interactions and economics. Always maintaining the thread of avoiding compaction damage to soils, he set up Controlled Traffic Farming (CTF Europe) Ltd in 2007 in response to an increasing demand for advice. The company now has a large farmer and industry partnership in the UK and also works across Europe as a facilitator of controlled traffic farming systems. Tim recently received a doctorate covering the impact of field traffic on soils and crops, and the profitability of farms adopting controlled traffic systems.

Ulf Ullring is a biologist from Norway. He is partly running his own consultancy and partly working freelance on conservation, land management and agriculture. Ulf holds a Master in plant ecology and land management, and have worked some years in agricultural plant and soil research at the Norwegian Inst. for Agricultural and Environmental Research (Bioforsk). He is also trained in farm management and horticulture, and has been an organic sheep farmer the last decade. He has served many terms on local or regional boards of the Norwegian organic farming organization Oikos. This past decade, Ulf have learned and practiced Holistic Management for both his farming operation and his consultancy. Now he is representing the the Savory Institute, as an Accredited Consultant in Residence, and he is presently working together with Fjällbete of Sweden, to establish a Nordic Savory Institute hub for Holistic Management in the valley of Åre in Sweden.

Vinodh Krishnamuthy has always been fascinated with “bugs” and this interest made him to pursue his career in Microbiology. His research work primarily focused on epidemiology of fungal plant pathogens and biological control of plant diseases. He was awarded Ph.D. from Aberdeen University for his work in developing a soil test to detect fungal pathogen that can cause devastatation to soft fruits such as strawberries. While working as Research Fellow at Nottingham University, he investigated how to control plant diseases within nurseries. The progress achieved in this project has contributed valuable knowledge to growers in their crop management and protection. Vinodh is keen to take science from the lab bench to the field and have been working with farmers and growers promoting organic amendments such as using compost and compost teas and enabling them to achieve sustainable farming.