Guest Post by John Hannen*
Despite the growth rate of organic farming, this type of agriculture only accounts for 1% of crops on Earth. With so much land available, would it be beneficial to take the necessary steps to become an organic farmer?
What is organic farming?
Organic farming is simply a type of crop and livestock production which can help productivity in communities that are part of an agro-ecosystem. Livestock, people, plants, and soil organisms are all covered within this holistic system, with the primary aim to develop enterprises that are both sustainable and harmonious with the environment.
What makes this type of farming different?
- 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.
The current state of organic farming in the UK
There are a lot of benefits when it comes to organic farming, and the Soil Association has backed this up.
When it comes to wildlife on organic farms, it has increased an average of 50% and there is 30% more species when comparing with traditional farming practices. These figures make for particularly good reading when you consider that the percentage of British wildlife has dropped by 50% since 1970.
Pesticide usage is likely to decrease if all farms in England and Wales were to turn to organic solutions. More than 17,800 tonnes of pesticides were used throughout British farms during 2015 and 43% of British food was found to contain pesticide residues by government testing during the same year.
What does organic farming look like in Britain 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% from 2015.
Crops grown organically on farms range from 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.
Poultry is the most commonly used type of livestock that is farmed naturally in Britain. This number is significantly more than the 840,800 sheep, 296,400 cattle and 31,500 pigs that make up the next three most popular types of livestock currently farmed organically across the nation.
The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) report isn’t all good news. 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% 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% since 2007.
The relationship between the world’s population and organic farming
According to John Regnold and Jonathan Wachter, regardless of negative figures released, there is plenty of potential in organic farming, as it’s still a relatively untapped resource. 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.
It’s been found in their analysis that yields can be produced on an organic farming setting which will help the planet and be profitable. Organic farming was also linked with delivering more nutritious foods containing less, or even no, pesticide residues than those produced by conventional means.
Professor Reganold pointed out to The Guardian: “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%) for farmers because consumers are willing to pay more. These higher prices essentially compensate farmers for preserving the quality of their land.”
Although the research did also highlight that organic farming systems produced yields which were on average 10% to 20% less than conventional means of agriculture.
Becoming an organic farmer
It’s not too hard to transition to an organic farmer. 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.
Although, to become an organic farmer you need to fill out an application form in which an inspection will be carried out to see if your farm is eligible. 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 have 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.
Your verification of being an organic farmer will only last one year, to renew you will need to welcome another inspection to make sure standards are being withheld.
To find out more about becoming an organic farmer, start by clicking here. You might even be eligible for funding to make the organic transition.
*Please note that the views are that of the author, not necessarily that of en-form.
John Hannen is from farm insurance providers, Lycetts.