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Organic farming: the pros and cons

organic farming

Organic farming comes in many forms

With a worldwide push towards eco-friendly methods and environmentally-sound processes, the interest in switching to organic farming should be growing — but is it?

For many years, organic and traditional farmers have endorsed the advantages of both methods.

In collaboration with Lycetts, a leading provider of farm insurance, we explore whether it is a side of agriculture that is worth more investment.

The beginning of organic farming

The use of natural fertilisers and less harmful farming techniques to encourage growth neatly sums up organic farming which began in the early 20th century, with the primary aim to develop enterprises that are both sustainable and kind to the environment — an ethos it still carries.

Essentially, organic farmers must:

  • Not use artificial chemical fertilisers, genetically modified crops or wormers.
  • Adopt processes including clover (to extract nitrogen from the air), soil rotation and other organic matter — like compost — to develop fertile earth.

Which farm types are associated with organic farming?

Organic farming is merely an agricultural method, and it isn’t associated with a particular type of farming. Whether you have an arable or pastoral farm, you can practise organic farming processes.

According to findings, poultry is the most popular organic livestock type in the UK and has even risen by 10% in 2016 to more than 2.8 million birds — a figure that far exceeds the 840,800 sheep, 296,400 cattle and 31,500 pigs that make up the next three most popular types of livestock farmed organically.

How about adopting organic methods for growing and harvesting crops? The three main types of crops grown organically in the UK are cereals, vegetables — which includes potatoes — and other arable crops. Here’s a list of how large an area each type of crop constituted in UK organic farming:

  • Barley: 12,900 hectares.
  • Oats: 11,600 hectares.
  • Wheat: 10,900 hectares.
  • Fodder, forage and silage: 5,400 hectares.
  • Maize, oilseeds and protein crops: 1,700 hectares.
  • Sugar beet: 100 hectares.

Evidently, organic farming could work well for any farmer.

Food quality and wildlife: the influence of organic farming practices

Practising eco-friendlier farming methods is of growing importance for professionals within the agricultural industry today — and, supposedly, organic farming can assist with this.

Apparently, if all farms suddenly transformed into organic establishments, we would see the use of pesticides decrease by 98% across Wales and England — a positive change considering that 43% of British food was found to contain pesticide residues after government testing in 2015.

Also, organic farming promises to improve the situation for British wildlife. There was a 50% average increase of wildlife found on organic farms — excellent news when you consider that wildlife numbers have dropped by 50% since 1970.

The importance of organic farming in the UK

For many of us, organic farming seems to be successful in the UK. We often find shelves in our local supermarkets packed with organically-produced foods, and the agricultural methods attracts a decent amount of interest and coverage via publications.

But surprisingly, organic farming accounts for just 1% of cropland around the world. The UK has a total area of 508,000 hectares of land that was farmed organically in 2016, according to the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs’ Organic Farming Statistics 2016 report.

In the same year, the total number of organic producers and processors stood at 6,363 — up 5.1% from 2015. Conversely, the total area of organic farming land in the UK declined overall by 32% since its peak in 2008, according to the 2016 report.

What organic farming can do for profits

Due to the potential for improving global carbon footprints, the idea of organic farming has been debated by scholars and experts for decades, most notably by John Reganold, a Regents Professor of Soil Science & Agroecology at the Washington State University, and doctoral student Jonathan Wachter, who used their Organic Agriculture in the 21st Century study to support organic agriculture.

Despite asserting that organic farming systems delivered 10-20% less produce than standard farming, on average; Professor Reganold is firmly behind the agricultural method.

He said: “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.”

But will farmers switch to organic farming if they aren’t going to be able to produce the same yields as they do now?

Perhaps, if they consider Professor Reganold’s reasoning: “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.”

Becoming an organic farmer in the UK

The rising trend of healthy eating schemes and get-fit-quick regimes offer huge potential for organic farmers in the UK. Organic food is commonly thought to be the healthier option, so why not capitalise on this?

To become an organic farmer, you must firstly register with an organic control body. Then, submit your application and wait for an inspection. Once this has been carried out and you’re successful, you’ll receive a certificate from an organic control body (CB).

Although the process to become an organic famer is lengthy (often two years), it is illegal to claim that your produce is organic if it isn’t. Once you have your CB-checked certificate, you could start boosting your farm’s profits while maintaining an eco-friendly establishment.


This article is supplied under the terms of the DB Direct service

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