The future of organic farming and the environment

This is a critical time for the future of organic farming in the UK; Brexit requires a new agricultural policy and environment grants are being fundamentally reformed. It is now widely recognised that there are great opportunities for organic and agroecological farming to address many of the problems facing agriculture.

The English Organic Forum (EOF) is currently very active in representing organic farming; collating the evidence and making the case for much greater support in recognition of its significant public good delivery and seeking expansion of the area of organic land. The EOF was initiated by The Organic Research Centre and is now comprised of all the principal organic organisations in England and Wales. The organic world can speak in unison and with authority.

The Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme aims to deliver the Defra 25 Year Environment Plan by paying public money for delivery of public goods; it is currently being developed and will comprise of three Tiers:

  1. Payment to farmers for delivering individual practices
  2. Payment for delivering locally targeted environmental outcomes and
  3. Payment for undertaking landscape scale projects.

We met with Defra last week, to discuss how certification schemes fit with ELM and although it is not yet clear where exactly organic farming fits in this structure, there is great potential for organic farming to deliver on all the 25 Year Environmental Plan goals:

  • Clean water
  • Clean air
  • Thriving plants and wildlife
  • Reduction in environmental hazards
  • Adoption and mitigation of climate change
  • Beauty, heritage and engagement with the environment

Clearly, given the significant benefits of the overall farming system organic farming needs to be paid accordingly, as part of ELM.

It is encouraging to hear George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, confirm recently the “very important role for an organic scheme” at an All Party Parliamentary Group for the Environment Q&A session. The EOF is meeting again with Defra to follow this up.

Nic Lampkin (independent consultant) has produced a thorough and comprehensive review of the case for and potential of organic farming to deliver multiple public goods, which is being used in discussions with Defra. Some of that evidence is drawn from this report from the Thunen Institute.

Weight to the argument is lent by the recently published results from the National Trust’s Wimpole Hall farm, where I have been involved for a number of years as adviser (see Farming for nature pays off for organic Wimpole). For example, they have found a doubling of skylarks, 38%increase in invertebrates and a substantial increase in soil organic matter.

The role of organic farming in delivering specific target wildlife species has long been debated by conservation bodies, but its potential is now recognised by the RSPB which has adopted a position of encouraging low input and organic farming as part of an overall policy context which includes:

  1. Some intensive farming to provide
  2. Land spared for natural habitat and
  3. lower intensity farming e.g. organic.

Last chance to respond to the consultation

Meanwhile the EU has set a much more ambitious strategy which includes 25% organic, a 50% reduction in pesticides and tackling climate change (See: EU targets 25% organic land in Europe by 2030). The UK risks falling behind so if you haven’t already done so you still have time to comment on ELM to Defra by 31st July 2020. Your views are really important. There are promising signs but still lots to play for if the full benefits of organic farming for wildlife and the environment as well as our health are to be realised.

Mark Measures, ORC Senior Adviser

See also:

Sign up to our e-Bulletin

Sign up to ORC’s e-bulletin and be the first to receive updates from our in-the-field research and the latest organic and agroecological news and events. Delivered to your inbox monthly.

Newsletter signup

By submitting this form, you are agreeing for us to contact you by email about our research, knowledge exchange, policy support and fundraising. Your details will only be used by the Organic Research Centre (ORC) in adherence with our Privacy Policy.

If you would like to change how you receive communications from the ORC or update your contact details, please click the appropriate link at the footer of any email you receive from us, or contact: