What does the organic farming scene look like in the UK?

Regardless of organic agriculture growing in popularity, it only accounts for 1% of cropland around the world. With so much land available, would it be beneficial to take the necessary steps to become an organic farmer?

What is organic farming?

It’s simply a type of crop and livestock production that enables productivity within the agro-ecosystem community. 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.   

How it is different to regular farming techniques:

  • 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.

Must-know information surrounding organic farming

There are countless benefits of organic farming and this is what the Soil Association (SA) continuously implies.

Wildlife found on organic farms has increased by an astonishing 50% and 30% more species in comparison to those found on a regular farming ground. These figures make for particularly good reading when you consider that the percentage of British wildlife has dropped by 50 per cent since 1970.

The SA said that pesticide usage would drop by as high as 98% in both England and Wales if all farming businesses turn 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.

But what does organic farming measure in the UK? 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.

In terms of what type of crop is being organically grown, the most common types are 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.

When we look to see which livestock is the most popular on an organic farm in Britain, poultry still stands its ground with a 10% increase in 2016 reaching almost 3 million birds. 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.

To the industry’s disappointment, the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs’ report isn’t all constructive. 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.

Organic farming will help with the world’s population

According to Professor John Reganold and student Jonathan Wachter, there is plenty of opportunity regardless of the not-so-positive figures. 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.

To help build profit and become more planet-friendly, organic farming ventures could actually produce yield to help farmers around the UK. Organic farming was also linked with delivering more nutritious foods containing less or even no pesticide residues than those produced by conventional means.

Speaking to The Guardian, Professor Reganold pointed out to: “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.”

Becoming an organic farmer

Is it an interesting prospect to become an organic-driven farm? 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.

To become an organic farmer, you need to fill out an application form which will allow you to become verified. 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 will only last you for one year and then you will need to be certified for a second time where the control body will visit and inspect your farm.

Farm insurance providers Lycetts brought you this article. If you’re looking to find out more about becoming an organic farm, where you could receive funding, start by clicking here.


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