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Why the business of organic farming is ripe with opportunity

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With this in mind, farm insurance policy providers Lycetts has investigated whether you should consider a venture into the organic farming scene in the year ahead.   

What are organic farming practices?

Organic farming practices are recorded when crop and livestock production has been designed so that they optimise the productivity and fitness of the diverse communities which exist in the agro-ecosystem.

Such a holistic system therefore covers everything from people and plants to soil organisms and livestock. The key aim of organic farming is that it will enable enterprises to be developed which are sustainable and harmonious with their surrounding environment.

How does organic farming differ from traditional farming? Here are four standout variations:

(1) Organic farming bans the use of any genetically modified crop or ingredient.

(2) Organic farming bans the routine use of any antibiotics, drugs and wormers.

(3) Organic farming prohibits the use of artificial chemical fertilisers. Organic farmers should instead grow and rotate a selection of crops so that soil is developed which is healthy and fertile. Clover should also be used to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, which organic matter such as compost can also be added to the arrangement.

(4) There are severe restrictions in place for the use of pesticides in organic farming practices. Organic farmers are instead encouraged to use wildlife for controlling pests and disease.

A study showcasing the potential of organic farming

Research carried out by John Reganold, a Regents Professor of Soil Science & Agroecology at the Washington State University, and doctoral student Jonathan Wachter led to the duo claiming that organic farming has plenty of potential and yet is still a relatively untapped resource.

In a study titled Organic Agriculture in the 21st century and involving the review of hundreds of scientific studies and 40 years of science, the pair found that organic farming systems were able to produce more profitable and environmentally friendly yields than when using conventional agriculture systems.

Larger numbers of nutritious foods which contain less or, in certain cases, no pesticide residues were also recorded compared to those made by conventional means of agriculture.

The research, which was published in full in Nature Plants, also detailed that organic farming systems produced 10 to 20 per cent less yields than conventional agriculture systems on average.

But speaking to The Guardian, professor Reganold pointed out: “Overall, organic farms tend to have better soil quality and reduce soil erosion compared to their conventional counterparts. Organic agriculture generally creates less soil and water pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions, and is more energy efficient.

“Organic agriculture is also associated with greater biodiversity of plants, animals, insects and microbes, as well as genetic diversity.

“Despite lower yields, organic agriculture is more profitable (by 22-35 per cent) for farmers because consumers are willing to pay more. These higher prices essentially compensate farmers for preserving the quality of their land.”

The current organic farming scene

When compared with non-organic farms, the Soil Association revealed that organic farms had been successful in recording a 50 per cent increase in wildlife on average, as well as a 30 per cent increase in species. When the percentage of British wildlife has decreased by 50 per cent since 1970, these figures are even more eye-catching.

Furthermore, the Soil Association claims that pesticide use would fall by 98 per cent across England and Wales if all farming practices in these two countries were to become organic. This is sure to be welcome, especially when 17,800 tonnes of pesticides were used across farms in Britain in 2015 alone.

Government testing carried out in the same year also revealed that pesticide residues were found in 43 per cent of British food examined.

The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs’ Organic Farming Statistics 2016 report is a handy resource for getting a good idea of what the UK’s organic farming scene currently looks like.

According to the report, there was 508,000 hectares of land farmed organically during 2016. The number of organic producers and processors found across the UK in this year was also recorded at 6,363, which is an increase of 5.1 per cent compared to 2015.

Cereals, vegetables (including potatoes) and other arable crops are the three most popular types of crop grown in an organic manner throughout the UK, the report goes on to reveal, while poultry is the most popular type of livestock farmed organically. Sheep, cattle and pigs were the next three most popular livestock.

Taking the first steps to becoming an organic farmer

If you wish to become an organic farmer yourself, you will need to register with an organic control body before producing, preparing, storing, selling or importing any organic products. This involves filling out an application and then having your facilities inspected.

Once this has been undertaken, you will be guided through a series of steps that will make you a certified organic farmer. It can take two years for the full procedure to be completed, which will conclude with you receiving a certificate from an organic control body (CB).

This certificate is important as it proves that you’re registered and have passed an inspection — however, be aware that claiming that any food product is organic when it hasn’t been inspected and certified by a CB is against the law.

It’s also important to remember that each certified organic farmer certificate is only valid for 12 months at a time. To renew your certificate though, all you need to do is request that a CB inspect your facilities again — they will update your records so long as the inspection was successful.


These sectors are in need of your investment

While technology may be grabbing the headlines and column inches at present, there are plenty of investment opportunities in other sectors.

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