Organic ‘mainstream agriculture in waiting’

A new independent report has been published by the University of Reading, funded by the Soil Association and an independent trust, which shows that organic farming has “much to offer” and “is, perhaps, mainstream agriculture in waiting.”

Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, comments:
“Organic farming does not have all the answers to the challenges of climate change and diet related ill-health, and there is still a lot of work to do to improve organic systems, but the report, ‘England and Wales under organic agriculture: how much food could be produced?’ shows the positive impact that organic farming could have.

“In the face of the rising prices and scarcity of key fossil fuel and mineralinputs, and the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050, food and farming systems will have to go through revolutionary changes in the next few decades. The rapidly escalating diet related health crisis means that our diets are also going to have to change dramatically. This independent report shows that organic farming could provide us with a far healthier and much more climate friendly diet.”

Key findings:
–        Cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution.
–        Energy intensive inputs to farming would fall, with fertilizer inputs cut by 95% and sprays by 98%.
–        More wildlife supported.
–        Jobs in the countryside would increase, including a 73% increase in farm employment.
–        As organic fruit and vegetable yields compare favourably with conventional agriculture, organic farming could, with some adjustment, supply similar volumes as at present, or even increase output if necessary.
–        Due to the need to abolish intensive pig and poultry systems in organic agriculture, chicken, egg and pig meat production would fall to roughly a quarter of current levels, making large quantities of grain available for human consumption.
–        Dairy production would fall by around 30%-40%, unless herds were to be re-established and dairies were to re-open in parts of the country which have lost them.
–        While the amount of wheat and barley produced would drop by around 30% due to lower yields, because far less grain would be fed to animals there could be as much wheat and barley available for human consumption under an organic system as there is at present.
–        A wholly organic agriculture could actually produce more beef and lamb than at present, with beef production rising by 68% and lamb by 55%.

For a summary of the research findings see: 

The research was commissioned by the Soil Association with funds from the HCD Memorial Fund.
The Centre for Agricultural Strategy (CAS) was established in October 1975 by the Nuffield Foundation on the campus of the University of Reading. In October 1980, the Centre became a self-financing unit within the University, and it now forms part of the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development. Its purpose is the pursuit of vigorous, independent research of developments in the agricultural and food industries, and the rural economy and the countryside, in the UK and – through collaborative projects with European partners – the European Union.