Defra urged to recognise crucial role of modern organics in UK’s farming future

Date Published: 18/11/2017

OF&G has welcomed the government’s pledge to put soil health at the heart of its approach to improving the environment and developing future farm policy.

But it warned DEFRA against thinking that organic farming systems did not offer high-tech, modern solutions to the challenges around  food production.

Speaking to EU organic farm leaders on Friday (17 November), farm minister George Eustice said that government proposals around the long-term sustainability of UK agriculture have to focus on improving soil health.

To help create more fertile soils, he said the government wanted to invest in research to learn how ‘traditional’ organic farming practices can merge with ‘modern’ farming systems to create a more sustainable approach to soils.

Lessons from the organic sector

“As we contemplate future agricultural policy, we ought to strive to achieve a fusion between [organic’s] traditional farm husbandry with some of the best modern technology we have,” he told the IFOAM EU conference in Reading via video link.

“Defra is about to open an R&D tender to explore how we can learn lessons from the organic sector…. and how we can transfer them to our wider approach to agricultural policy and our wider approach to soils.

“No one understands more than organic farmers the value of a fertile soil that’s cared for,” he added.

“You recognise more than anyone else that the soil cannot be mined; it is something that must be nurtured and cared for and if you nurture it properly it will repay you.”

Cutting-edge of ecological innovation

Roger Kerr, OF&G chief executive, said it was encouraging to hear that the government is looking to the organic sector for solutions.

But he challenged the suggestion that organic farming only uses traditional systems and does not embrace new technologies and modern techniques, and said organic is in fact at the cutting-edge of ecological innovation.

“As we enter a new era for UK agricultural policy, it’s heartening to see that the government has listened to our calls for a long-term approach which focuses on the importance of our soils,” he said.

“To achieve truly sustainable, healthy, productive and profitable food and farming systems, it’s vital that the future of our soils are put at the centre of agricultural policy.

“Organic systems offer so much in terms of soil health and wider environmental benefits, and it is encouraging to know that Defra minister Michael Gove and his wider team are looking to the organic sector for answers.

“Where we clearly need to do more work is ensuring Government understand that organic systems are not just an adjunct to modern farming, they are a critical cornerstone of it,” he added.

“Some of the most progressive, entrepreneurial and innovative farmers in Britain are organic, and countless organic producers are already making use of the most high-tech tools and techniques available to produce healthy soils, and sustainable, plentiful supplies of high-quality food.

“We look forward to working with Mr Gove and his colleagues in Defra to help them understand this.”

Watch George Eustice’s video message: