Which is a more appealing and attractive farming enterprise – conventional or organic? The crux of this discussion reasoned though that it is not that simple a classification – conventional farming systems do not hold all the answers but neither does organic systems.
Having the opportunity to underpin different techniques commercially to successful business practices was seen as important; consumer perceptions of organic values may have declined against price squeezes, and overlapped with provenance attributes, but the ideology of organic farming was recognised as one of its redeeming qualities and a key reason for many considering a switch to trial some of the organic principles.
It is inherently a subjective business decision however, and definitions of sustainability become more apparent at small scales or with different enterprise mixes, and could be more significant in light of upcoming CAP reforms and potential greening measures.
Organic premiums looked attractive when grain prices were low, but ultimately an appreciation of its values to the specific farming system will give rise to its inclusion within business ethos as an important marketing and production tool, or otherwise simply an often perceived luxury branding add on.
The discussion held on Thursday 18th April 2013 looked at the topic of “Decertification: has organic agriculture lost its appeal?” and generated a total of 942 tweets on the topic from 162 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders, as well as members of the general public.
Q1 Do you farm organic/ conventional? How long have you farmed in this way? Are you thinking of going into/ leaving organic ag?
- I farm conventional and will stay conventional, organic production will not feed a growing population
- Since 1989, and am definitely staying organic have farmed dairy, beef, cereals and veg at various times
- I was the farm manager of an organic farm .The farm gave up its organic status for economic and agronomic reasons
- Remember – ‘organic’ is a way of farming and growing, it is not a logo or a label!
- Farmed organic 9 years. No SFP due to historic system. Organic was only sub. Reforms mean better to return std ag
- Organic/conventional should be expressed as sustainable/unsustainable – farming in limits
- I converted in 1999 and plan to stay organic because of the management/eco challenge and to date it has been more profitable
- Hi-input/conventional won’t feed the planet either if we carry on destroying the ecosystems on which farming depends
- Important to remember ‘conventional’ farming developed from organic due to the demand for more food due to growing populations
- Organic frightens a lot of farmers, especially animal treatments; good starting point is to try some of the principles first
Q2a How many farmers go into organic ag for commercial reasons or philosophical ones?
- My grandfather converted for philosophical reasons but my father and I continue it for both and many more!
- Anecdotally appears to be a mix at first, then more farmers move towards engaging with the philosophy after a while
- It was a good financial decision to convert as well 7 or so yrs ago
- I initially went in for commercial reasons. Non-organic business plan is flawed as you are at mercy of inputs
- When grain prices were at £60/t organic premiums looked very attractive
- Conversion payments and higher Organic Entry Level payments are an incentive. Europe likes organic
- Organic farming should be about producing sustainable food & looking after the earth,market also has to support it
Q2b What are the key reasons you farm or don’t farm organically?
- Organic status was given up due to financial reasons and intolerable weed burden in arable crops. Blackgrass and charlock
- Organic livestock production was easier to justify and operate. Meat from forage was really interesting and relevant
- Used to be an extensive farmer so thought I’d do it officially and get paid for it!
- All down to cost cooch big problem ,docks in permenent pasture corn marigolds.Big mess if we went organic .Not for everyone
- Don’t like organic, tolerate it. Have learned a lot about market and buyers, too far from big population tho.
- Paperwork and restriction of choice Vs lack of premium for Organic. Still use many organic principles.
Q3 If CAP greening is given the green light, will it encourage more farmers to convert to organic?
- It’s a good incentive but to convert solely because of greening is a bit fickle
- Don’t think so. Scots are too far from population centres. SFP reform here will discourage organic
- Will depend on the green aid given to organic farmers. Current agrienvironment schemes give + payments to organic farmers
- Depends on business? More likely to drop the 30% SPS in favor of choice. Own business decision,
- It’s a no brainer if you have under utilised parkland
- CAP greening on red/amber light, no organic incentive, but some for young farmers who may choose to lead organic movement?!
- Proposed greening measures are pretty low level organic farmers go way above them so probably not a huge incentive
- My involvement in HLS has proved to me that greening is the way going forward
Q4 Which is more sustainable, organic or conventional farming? Why?
- I think it depends entirely on the ground you are farming, on a small scale, perhaps organic is more sustainable
- For me the future is the best of both systems+new technology eg G.M, precision farming
- Definition of sustainable: “Conserving an ecological balance indefinitely by avoiding depletion of natural resources.”
- I refuse to acknowledge that simple a classification.
- Organic can’t feed 9bill people. Conventional consumes too many resources/pollutes
- Surely there are features of both that can be used but ultimately artificial fertiliser needed to maximise yields?
- Surely GM has role to play in reducing resource consumption?
- Isn’t it just a question of what consumers will buy. Neither system is sustainable unless product can be sold
- Find a system that suits u financially and works for your farm and stick to it. Every farm is different
- Please don’t put conventional v organic farming in a head to head – we all lose that way!
Q4b By being more self-sufficient, relying on less expensive inputs, does organic farming make better business sense?
- Lower input lower output sorry but that is just how it is at this time!
- Maybe not, but we re-use everything in some way here, veg on the turn goes in to our bellies or chickens
- Organic offers more control over input costs and more options
- Relatively consistent org grain prices has meant making business decisions for future easier
Q5 Given the pressure on food security is organic a luxury we can no longer afford? Or key tool?
- There appear to be less people willing to pay organic premiums at the moment and UK sales have declined
- Although, some of the decline in sales is due to supermarkets stocking less organic produce
- This shd not be about one versus the other, but how technology can help us farm and feed the world most sustainably
- Not a luxury to deliver quality food to give health with least damage to the most precious resource we have – the soil
- Organic production is key to feeding the world. Antibiotic and chemical resistance could render current system inoperable
- Org can play a key role in a resource limited world.
- Food security is wrongly applied term – current systems are a disgraceful management of global resources & food we do produce
- Organic food in real terms is not expensive,non organic food is priced below cost.If we want good food we must pay a fair price.
- Food Security is broadly a militaristic term utilised by a production paradigm to provide validity for this/that& the other
- Doesn’t eliminating chemicals and processed inputs improve food security?
Q6a What has been your experience of selling into the organic market and also of certification? Does certification help?
- There is a good market for organic beef. Organic lamb premiums are difficult to find. Organic cereals trade in low volumes
- There are so many cheap imports. Organic producers cant compete! Need people to realise the difference in taste
- I keep hearing buying organic or direct from farm shops can work out cheaper. Embarrased to say it’s not a theory I’ve tested!
- Certification a must but international certification standards not consistent
- Market has been a bumpy ride, but prob same as many non-organic. Without certification its impossible unless v small/local
- Would love to see what the market would decide if we had true transparency over all aspects of Production + Distribution
- Very important to explain methods & explain why organic is chosen.
- Organic consumers like the concept of pesticide free food and more environmentally friendly farming
- I think consumer perception of values behind organic overlapped with local food + other provenance attributes
Q7 Is Organic produce set for a boost if it’s the only way to guarantee GM free food?
- Probably unlikely . Major supermarkets are now accepting that use of GM soya in livestock feed is inevitable.
- Possibly, but when people see that GM in fact has no ill-health issues, the balance will shift again
- Organic Trade Assoc in US found surge in organic after GM labeling issues,organic trusted by families as wanted GM free food
- I don’t buy organic, due to price. For me, organic producers would need to educate me more to make me spend more. How?
- In terms of added value/competitive advantage surely non-GM should be a massive marketing angle for organic producers??
- Organic is the great adversary of GM, the consumer will chose. GM could well modify its approach
Q8 What have you learnt/changed from farming/growing organic even if you are no longer organic?
- Having never tried, this is a theory. I think growing organic helps you understand the requirement of crops and soil better
- Conventional farming systems don’t hold all the answers for sustainability but neither do organic systems.
- Important that we have a viable organic farming industry, opportunity to test different techniques on a commercial scale
- Surely the key is to expand th shopper segments& many target groups feel like ‘organic’ belongs to someone else
- 2 best things learned from organic farming: the power & value of homoeopathy, that nature needs more respect, & clover!
- Organic farming awakens us to the work of the millions of microbes below our feet – without them none of us would be alive
Simon Haley, Reading Agricultural Consultants, and Alan Spedding, 22 April 2013