Changing the future of food and farming

Farming organically

What is organic farming?

Organic agriculture relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects.

It combines tradition, innovation, and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and good quality of life for all involved (IFOAM General Assembly 2008).

Farming organically implies a commitment to four principles:

  • Health. Organic agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.
  • Ecology. Organic agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.
  • Fairness. Organic agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.
  • Care. Organic agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.

The benefits of farming organically

Better for the environment, better for farmers, better for us all.Find out why organic farming makes sense:

Better for farmers

Organic farming and growing makes good sense for many farms:

  • More profitable: during the last 10 years most organic farm systems have been just as profitable as conventional, and in many cases more so.
  • Organic marketing opportunities: expanding markets with premium prices are available for most organic products, whether supplying wholesale cereals and milk, on farm processing or retail sales such as box schemes
  • Animal health and welfare: no intensive livestock and minimal use of antibiotics improves welfare and avoids the associated problems of antimicrobial resistance
  • Farm environment: long term soil health, more wildlife and no personal exposure to agrochemicals

Further reading: Farm Business Survey 2018/19 – a summary from organic farming in England. Scott C. September 2019

Better for the environment

Organic farming and growing is better for the environment and wildlife. This results from both the farming methods used and the positive wildlife management, which is all part of organic farming.

Organic farming involves a system of farm management which is inherently more diverse; mixed arable and livestock, diverse ley and crop mixtures and with multiple enterprises. The practices used by organic farmers include use of manures and green waste compost, legumes to fix nitrogen, fertility building leys and green manures. And of course no use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides and minimal veterinary medicines. Together with a focus on soil health and management there are many benefits for wildlife and the environment.

Wildlife management is important for many organic farms not just out of respect for nature but also because a thriving wildlife really does benefit the farming. Creating beetle banks for insect predators, managing larger hedges for crop and stock shelter, conserving dung beetles and earthworms for soil fertility and permanent pastures for animal health, all contribute to a thriving organic farm.

Many years of research show the advantages of organic farming:

  • Water protection. Reduced nitrate, phosphate and agrochemical contamination as result of no use of nitrate fertilisers, soluble phosphate fertilisers or agrochemicals
  • Soil fertility. Higher earthworm and micro-organism numbers and reduced compaction
  • Increased arable plant species, insect pollinators, birds and earthworms
  • Climate change. Higher carbon sequestration and reduced green house gas emissions including lower nitrous oxide emissions and no emissions from nitrate fertiliser manufacture
  • Resource efficiency. Lower use of finite resources including phosphate and fossil energy
  • Greater crop diversity and, on mixed farms, the presence of livestock, often rare or indigenous breeds.

Further reading: Potential contribution of organic farming and growing to ELM. Lampkin, N. 2020

 

Better for us all

We all need access to healthy, sustainably produced food. Organic food, farming and growing is based on the concept of a natural system, where crops are grown in soil, with minimal use of inputs and food processing and animals have the highest health and welfare. The way in which food is produced affects the quality of that food and the health of those eating it.

Here’s why organic food is good for you:

  • Greater nutritional quality in many foods, including antioxidants and more of the healthy fatty acids
  • Lower pesticide, antibiotic, heavy metal and nitrate residues
  • No GMOs or animal growth promoters.

Further reading: ORC/FiBL report for Sustainability and Quality of organic food

Read in depth

Converting your farm to organic management

READ MORE

Managing an organic farm

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Farming more sustainably

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Loans for organic / agroecological farmers

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Organic Farm Management Handbook

Buy your Organic Farm
Management Handbook

The Organic Farm Management Handbook is the only source of information on the costs and performance of organic farming.

This is a ‘must have’ publication for everyone interested in the business of organic farming and growing. This edition provides technical and financial data, information on current support schemes, Brexit permitting, as well as details on organic markets.

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Agricology

The Organic Research Centre runs a collaborative project called Agricology – an independent learning platform bringing together the latest knowledge on agroecological farming systems from across the sector, bridging research and farmer experience (organic and conventional), regardless of labels.  See: https://www.agricology.co.uk.

Download Towards Farmer Principles of Health

Download Towards Farmer Principles of Health

Read our handy guide to running healthy farming systems.

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