Where Does Britain Stand On Organic Farming?

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Around the world, only 1% of cropland is occupied by organic agriculture — regardless of its popularity in recent years. With so much land available, would it be beneficial to take the necessary steps to become an organic farmer?

What is organic farming?

Within the agro-ecosystem — organic farming is a specific type of crop or livestock that can encourage productivity within communities as well as fitness requirements. Livestock, people, plants and soil organisms are all covered within this holistic system then, with the primary aim to develop enterprises that are both sustainable and harmonious with the environment.

  • It differs from traditional farming methods because:
  • Any genetically modified crop or ingredient is banned.
  • The routine use of antibiotics, drugs and wormers is banned.

Artificial chemical fertilisers are prohibited. Instead, organic farmers are encouraged to develop soil which is healthy and fertile by growing and rotating a variety of crops, making use of clover to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and adding organic matter — compost, for instance.

There are severe restrictions on pesticides, with organic farmers instead looking to wildlife to provide a helping hand for controlling disease and pests.

But what are the statistics surrounding organic farming?

There are many benefits of organic farming, according to The Soil Association.

According to research, there has been a growth of 50% in spotted wildlife on organic farms, with 30% of additional species being found in comparison to non-organic farming plots. These figures make for particularly good reading when you consider that the percentage of British wildlife has dropped by 50 per cent since 1970.

Across England and Wales, pesticide is set to drop by 98% if every farm becomes organic. More than 17,800 tonnes of pesticides were used throughout British farms during 2015 and 43 per cent of British food was found to contain pesticide residues by government testing during the same year.

How do organic farms compare currently? According to the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs’ Organic Farming Statistics 2016 report, the nation had a total area of 508,000 hectares of land which was farmed organically in 2016. In the same year, the total number of organic producers and processors stood at 6,363 — up 5.1 per cent from 2015.

Grown organically, there are three main types of produce (including cereals and vegetables). When it comes to cereals, barley had the largest total organic area at 12,900 hectares, followed by oats (11,600 hectares) and then wheat (10,900 hectares). When breaking down other arable crops, fodder, forage and silage had the highest total organic area at 5,400 hectares. The next most popular was maize, oilseeds and protein crops at 1,700 hectares, followed by sugar beet with a total organic area of 100 hectares.

In 2016, a 10% increase was found in regard to livestock with more than 2.8 million birds on organic farms. This number is significantly more than the 840,800 sheep, 296,400 cattle and 31,500 pigs which make up the next three most popular types of livestock currently farmed organically across the nation.

However, there are some downsides to the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) report. While making up a substantial space, the total area of land which is farmed organically across the UK dropped between 2015 and 2016 and has also declined by 32 per cent since its peak in 2008. All three of the main crop types grown organically have seen declines since the latter years of the 2000s too, while the number of producers is down by 35 per cent since 2007.

The benefit of organic farms to an ever-growing planet

According to John Reganold from Washington State University and doctoral student Jonathan Wachter, organic farming is a resource that can help the planet and has potential to change the way we farm. The pair reached this conclusion in a study titled Organic Agriculture in the 21st Century, which was published in Nature Plants and involved the review of 40 years of science and hundreds of scientific studies.

Aside from traditional methods of agriculture, organic farms were able to produce yield which seemed to be more profitable. Organic farming was also linked with delivering more nutritious foods containing less or even no pesticide residues than those produced by conventional means.

“Overall, organic farms tend to have better soil quality and reduce soil erosion compared to their conventional counterparts. Organic agriculture generally creates less soil and water pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions, and is more energy efficient. Organic agriculture is also associated with greater biodiversity of plants, animals, insects and microbes, as well as genetic diversity.

“Despite lower yields, organic agriculture is more profitable (by 22–35 per cent) for farmers because consumers are willing to pay more. These higher prices essentially compensate farmers for preserving the quality of their land.” — commented Professor Reganold in The Guardian.

Making the move to organic farming

Looking to change your methods to align with organic farming? Before you begin producing, preparing, storing, importing or selling organic products, the first step you will need to take is to register with an organic control body.

If you’re looking to switch your methods, you must complete an application which will lead to an inspection — this will result in you becoming a verified organic farmer. The entire procedure can take two years to complete — at the end of which you’ll receive a certificate from an organic control body (CB) to prove you’re registered and passed an inspection. You will be breaking the law if you claim that a food product is organic if it hasn’t been inspected and certified by a CB.

However, this certificate of being an organic farmer will only last for 12 months — to renew, another inspection will be carried out by the organic control body and then your records will be updated if eligible.

If you’re interested to learn more about the EU standards for organic farming and the funding that is available, farm insurance providers Lycetts suggest clicking here.