Since the early 1990's, organic farming in the UK has expanded rapidly and by mid 2003 accounted for 4% of the agricultural land area with nearly 4000 farms managing some 720,000 hectares. This growth has been driven by consumers and policy makers who see organic farming as making a contribution to environmental, welfare, social and nutritional goals. It is one of a number of sustainable food production strategies; integrated farming being another, less restrictive option for farmers.
origins of organic farming in the UK
Organic farming as a concept is not new dating back to the 1920's, although many of the underlying ideas are older than that. When Lady Eve balfour founded the Soil Association in 1946, the key emphasis was on soil fertility and conservation, but since the 1960s concern about pesticide residues, BSE, animal welfare, loss of wildlife and the use of non-renewable resources have influenced the development of organic agriculture.
is organic farming?
Organic farming means much more than not using artificial fertilisers and pesticides. It is an approach to agriculture where the aim is to create integrated, humane, environmentally and economically sustainable production systems. Organic farmers follow legally defined standards, with a two year conversion period and are inspected annually. The main principles are as follows:
fertility and crop production
Shallow ploughing, manuring and crop rotations including nitrogen fixing plants are used to maintain soil fertility without the use of soluble fertilizers.
and weed control
Herbicides are not allowed and only a few pesticides can be used under strict conditions. Pests and weeds are controlled by preventive measures such as habitat management, crop rotation, choice of varieties and mechanical cultivation.
nutrition and welfare
As far as possible livestock are land-based and supported from the farm's own resources with a minimum of bought in feeds. Animal health is based on preventive management, crop rotation, choice of varieties and mechanical cultivation.
Organic farmers are required to maintain habitats for wildlife, such as hedges and field margins. Because of the environmental benefit that organic farming can deliver, many EU countries have developed policies that promote organic farming, including payments to organic farmers under agri-environment schemes and organic action plans.
Identifying UK produced organic foods
Organic foods can be recognised by a number of symbols awarded by various organic certification bodies in the UK. The most well known of these are listed below but for further information visit the DEFRA Organic Food and Farming.
Biodynamic Agricultural Association
Demeter Scheme Coordinator, 17 Inverleith Place, Edinburgh EH3 5QE
Tel: 0131 624 3921
Long Hanborough, Oxford OX29 8LH
Tel: 01993 885610
Farmers & Growers Ltd
Elim Centre, Lancaster Road, Shrewsbury, Shropshire
Tel: 01743 440512
31 Turbine Way, Eco Tech Business Park, Swaffham, Norfolk, PE37 7XD
Tel: 01760 720444
Association Certification Ltd
Bristol House, 40-56 Victoria Street, Bristol, BS1 6BY
Tel: 0117 914 2406
Organic Producers Association
Scottish Organic Centre, 10th Avenue, Royal Highland Centre
Ingliston, Edinburgh, EH28 8NF
Tel: 0131 335 6606
Quality Welsh Food Certification Ltd
PO Box 8, Gorseland, North Road, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 2WB.
Tel: 01970 636688
This article has been produced in association with
The Organic Centre Wales.