Why CAP should recognise the benefits of an organic system

Farming must deliver multiple goals:

Farming in the EU (and UK) will have to meet multiple objectives (based on current policies and/or trends).  The two crucial policy goals identified in the UK Cabinet Office Strategy Unit’s 2008 report are:

  • dramatically reduced GHG emissions;
  • a healthier diet (which we would say is based on mainly locally produced, seasonal, unprocessed food, with less meat and dairy products overall (proportionately more grass-fed dairy and red meat, significantly less grain and protein fed pork and chicken); and

in addition, farming could and should deliver:

  • far higher levels of farmland wildlife;
  • more and more rewarding jobs and a greater contribution to the economic and social well-being of rural areas;
  • far higher levels of farm animal welfare;
  • significantly less diffuse pollution;
  • thriving smaller farms and farming in remote areas and the uplands;
  • no use of any persistent, bio-accumulative, hormone disrupting pesticides, and full protection from chemical spraying for all rural schools, surgeries and residents;
  • improved drought resistance - higher organic matter levels in soil to hold water, and deeper and denser rooting crops;
  • improved natural resistance to disease and other pressures;
  • less or no use of irrigation except where rainfall is used;
  • improved water holding capacity of soil, reducing speed and scale of run-off after heavy rains;
  • conservation and building fertile soils.

The role of the organic system of farming is to meet these multiple objectives:

  • there is now solid evidence that organic farming produces higher levels of soil organic matter, and soil carbon, than non-organic farming (around +28% carbon in Northern Europe);
  • this translates into significant levels of carbon sequestration: about 3.2million tC/yr in the UK (a very conservative estimate) and maybe c.1.5bn tC/yr globally;
  • organic farming produces this benefit as a by-product, without taking land out of food production.  

Organic farming also:

  • increases farmland biodiversity by 30% (species) and 50% (numbers);
  • increases jobs on farms by 73%*;
  • reduces pesticide use by 98%*, and artificial fertiliser use by 95%*;
  • eliminates most diffuse pollution;
  • eliminates all factory reared pigs and poultry, and ensures high welfare  standards for all farm animals;
  • provides the best system to produce food in poorest countries (IAASTD, UNCTAD).

[* ‘England and Wales under organic agriculture: how much food could be produced’; Centre for Agriculture Strategy, University of Reading; 2008.]

Current (and any potential future) government policy is that farming must meet multiple objectives:

  • these objectives are going to be most  efficiently met with a system that delivers all (or almost all) the objectives, rather than relying on a myriad of policy interventions to try and achieve each one separately;
  • the system will ideally be one where any compliance costs (inspection and certification) are met by farmers not taxpayers;
  • the system will have market support, and not rely solely on taxpayer funding;
  • the farming system delivering multiple public goods is also the main driver of the farm business, and the wide variety of public goods the system delivers are thus products of the economic driver of the business, and will continue to be delivered whatever the economic conditions of the main business, short of bankruptcy.

In contrast to a systems solution, tailor-made, specific solutions have serious flaws:

  • often specific interventions will work against each other – increasing output of milk per cow to reduce GHGs will tend to worsen animal welfare; planting trees to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will reduce land available for growing food; this increases costs and causes confusion;
  • piecemeal approaches increase administrative burdens on farmers, and increase public sector administration and compliance costs (and thus reduce proportion of available money going direct to farmers);
  • specific interventions aim to mitigate or counter the impact of the main driver of farm businesses (producing food or other agricultural products to sell), and as they are working against the economic driver of the business will tend to be more expensive, and at risk of being dropped when economic conditions favour the main business.

farmland meadow, hedge and tree