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Back to basics

Date Published: 07/08/2008

We seem to be plagued in the organic sector with a growing number of studies (often government funded) which claim to be measuring the benefits, or otherwise, of organic farming.

While genuine scientific study is a good thing, and we’re all in favour of having good data, quite what some of the recent studies are out to prove is yet to be determined. But what many have in common is that they seem to be missing the point of organic farming. In comparing organic with non-organic farms they are, in many ways, comparing oranges and apples when they come up with their figures for nutrition, or carbon impacts, or methane from cows…

This situation appears to have got under the skin of OF&Gs’ normally thoroughly calm (!) Development Officer, Steven Jacobs, causing him to put fingers to keyboard and produce the following. Definitely worth a read for anyone who has forgotten the ‘basics’…

One connection between the many reports from reputable sources across the planet over the years on the critical denuding of the worlds soil supply is an apparent lack of preparation by us for the eventuality that agricultural yields have and will continue to drop significantly.

Recently, near Shrewsbury in Shropshire a gathering of over 150 farmers, merchants, advisors and scientists from right across the UK looked positively at many of the credible reasons for converting to organic food production.

These included the economics of soil maintenance and the market opportunities for organic food. Ideas that have been around only a few decades together with those that are almost as old as the Shropshire hills.

Why then do some say they did not see the current production and economic crises coming?

My assumption is, although rather cynical, based on many years experience working in the farming and food industries that short-term gain is seen as more of a priority than sustained growth.

On the farm non-renewable input cost rises are helping those that have the luxury to do so to choose not to grow food on their farms. Others are facing bankruptcy whilst elsewhere whole communities face starvation.

Inputs often rely as do plants on the soils ability to soak up liquid. The soil holds liquid by virtue of both its fibrous content and worm activity. The fibre holds the water. The worms, amongst many other duties, aerate the soil. There was written a rather long and detailed study of phylum annelida (worms) stating their importance in no uncertain terms. It describes at great length the different and complex inter-activities between worms and their neighbours who include plant, animal as well as bacterial life forms.

This inter-relationship was apparent, measurable and key to each component not just surviving but their ability to thrive. The work is well read and yet it seems that others have mislaid their copies. The author, Charles Darwin, was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, 1809.