11th December 2023
In this paper OF&G explores how land use in England would change if we were to see an increase in organic farming, estimating the benefits we might expect to realise if 10% or 25% of agricultural land in England were organically managed – a three- or eight-fold increase from the 3.5% of the agricultural land area at present.
Organic farming balances food, nature, and climate priorities through delivery of a sustainable farming system combining modern science and technology with traditional farming practices to maintain the long-term fertility of the soil and use less of the Earth’s finite resources whilst producing high quality, nutritious food. It is underwritten by legally binding, compulsory standards giving certainty around claims and benefits of the approach.
Organic techniques have been developed from an understanding of and research into soil science, crop breeding, animal husbandry and ecology. The maintenance of soil fertility relies principally on the use of legumes, crop rotations, the application of composted animal manures and ground rock minerals. Pests, diseases and weeds are normally controlled by choice of appropriate species and varieties, appropriate rotations, mechanical cultivation, protection of natural pest enemies, physical barriers and thermal processes.
Synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, growth regulators and a number of livestock feed additives are prohibited although some specified materials can be used in severely restricted circumstances.
The outcome is an organic farming system that is substantially different from non-organic farming, one which is within planetary boundaries and that enhances biodiversity, reduces climate change impact whilst ensuring better animal welfare.
A government land use strategy is expected, and it is to be hoped that this will balance the land use needs for rural and urban land. There is no single ‘right’ way to produce food – and the answer will lie in dovetailing different approaches that reflect the topographical, climate and management experience of farmers across the UK. It is important however to realise the significant contribution Organic Farming can deliver in achieving the wider climate and biodiversity restoration goals, within this wider framework.
This paper reflects the widely acknowledged potential for organic farming to reliably deliver a resilient food production system alongside much reduced, multi-faceted environmental impacts. Organic farming delivers both wide and deep gains across both the food system and wider environment.
The organically managed crop area and livestock production and the environmental impact (increased biodiversity, reduced fertiliser and pesticide use, reduced greenhouse gas emissions) have been estimated assuming either 10% or 25% of England’s agriculture is converted to organic farming, compared to the 3.5% at present.
Two scenarios were developed, firstly the Equal Shares (ES), where the area of each organic crop is in the same proportion as each crop in current non-organic farming. Secondly the Ideal Organic (IO), where the proportion of each crop (cereal, legumes, grass-clover pasture etc.) is designed to balance fertility building as well as exploitative cropping. The total area of organically managed land would be 855,132 Ha (at 10%) or 2,137,832 Ha (at 25%).
The full document is available for download: