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Should you consider venturing into organic farming?

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Should you consider venturing into organic farming?

Organic agricultural practices have been growing in popularity recently. However, they still only occupy one per cent of all cropland worldwide. Would it be a good idea to consider becoming an organic farmer, especially with all of the land available? Lycetts, a specialist provider of farm insurance, has attempted to answer this question in the following guide:

What is organic farming?

A type of crop and livestock production, organic farming aims to optimise both the productivity and fitness of diverse communities which are involved in the 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.

Organic farming stands out from traditional farming methods for the following reasons:

  1. Any genetically modified crop or ingredient is banned.
  2. The routine use of antibiotics, drugs and wormers is banned.
  3. 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.
  4. There are severe restrictions on pesticides, with organic farmers instead looking to wildlife to provide a helping hand for controlling disease and pests.

The facts and figures linked to organic farming

The benefits of organic farming have been spotlighted by a variety of statistics obtained and reported on by the Soil Association.

Wildlife found on organic farms has increased on average by 50 per cent, for instance. Furthermore, 30 per cent more species are found on average on organic farms when compared to those recorded on non-organic farms. 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 Soil Association also claims that the use of pesticide would decrease by 98 per cent throughout England and Wales if all farming in these two countries were to become 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.

Is the UK’s organic farming scene currently looking healthy, though? 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.

Cereals, vegetables — including potatoes — and other arable crops are the three main types of crop which are grown organically throughout the UK today. 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 it comes to livestock, poultry is the most popular type that is farmed organically across the UK. It has seen a rise of 10 per cent in 2016 to reach more than 2.8 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.

There are a few negative aspects of the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs’ report, though. 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.

Could organic farming help a world population that is quickly growing?

It’s not all good news where organic farming is concerned. However, John Reganold, a Regents Professor of Soil Science & Agroecology at the Washington State University, and doctoral student, Jonathan Wachter, have argued that this practice is a relatively untapped resource with plenty of potential.

Their statement comes as a result of a study titled Organic Agriculture in the 21st Century, which included a review of 40 years of science and a wide variety of scientific studies.

In their analysis, which has been published in Nature Plants, it was underlined that organic farming systems had the capability to produce yields which were both more environmentally friendly and profitable than more traditional forms of agriculture. Organic farming was also linked with delivering more nutritious foods containing less or even no pesticide residues than those produced by conventional means.

The research did also state that, when compared to conventional types of agriculture, the yields produced by organic farming systems were down by 10 to 20 per cent on average. However, 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 per cent) for farmers because consumers are willing to pay more. These higher prices essentially compensate farmers for preserving the quality of their land.”

Where to start when becoming an organic farmer

Does organic farming appeal to you? 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.

This will see you completing an application, followed by an inspection taking place and then a process taking place which will eventually see you becoming a certified 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 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 certificate proving that you’re a certified organic farmer will be valid for 12 months. However, a renewal will simply involve a CB inspecting your farm and then updating your records if the inspection is a success.

Click here to read more about how to meet EU standards if you’re pursuing a career as an organic farmer. There, you will also discover the various funding options which are available to help you convert to organic farming practices.

 

Sources:

http://www.pnas.org/content/112/24/7611.full

http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/09-077.htm

https://www.soilassociation.org/organic-living/organic-farming/

https://www.soilassociation.org/organic-living/whyorganic/

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/614552/organics-statsnotice-18may17.pdf

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/aug/14/organic-farming-agriculture-world-hunger

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/organic-farming-how-to-get-certification-and-apply-for-funding

I am the founder of Startup Today. I am the main writer and have put in many hours of work into creating this blog. If you want to find out more about me then lets get in contact.

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