Stockfree Organic Farming: Abundance Without Animals?
Among the many organic certification schemes that Soil Association Certification can inspect for you (producer, processor, COSMOS, GOTS) one in particular stands out.
The Stockfree Organic Standard, run by the Vegan Organic Network, regulates commercial growers, and allows them to use the Stockfree Organic symbol on their products. Growers must meet all the Soil Association farmer and growing standards, as well as the additional Stockfree Organic Standards.
Stockfree Organic Systems
As organic systems don't use synthetic fertilisers, most organic farmers and growers use livestock manure to build fertility, alongside other animal-derived inputs. Stockfree Organic farmers and growers, on the other hand, produce organic fruit and vegetables without the use of livestock entirely, whether in the form of inputs derived from animals or raising livestock as an enterprise in itself. Additionally, farmers and growers must not supply fodder to livestock reared for consumption, must not allow sports or shootings within its perimeters, and must demonstrate a caring attitude towards any animals that do remain on farm.
Having said that, Iain Tolhurst, one of the most well-known Stockfree Organic farming proponents, claims that he does in fact have millions of livestock (3.5 million per hectare) - but they are small and wriggly and live underground …
The Stockfree Organic Standards recommend using compost, green manure and hay from your own holding, while plant-based composts are permitted to be brought in, provided they are from certified organic systems. Other external sources of fertility, such as green waste from local authorities, seaweed or by-products from food processing industries are restricted, and require written permission. This is decided on a case-by-case basis, where consideration is given to the possibility of contamination from animal by-products, pathogens, GMOs or other contaminants. It goes without saying that chemical fertilisers are not permitted.
Pests and diseases are dealt with through land management, rather than by applying pesticides. Stockfree Organic farmers and growers encourage natural predators by planting flower strips, leaving field margins uncultivated and installing water features. As all organic farmers know, a balanced crop rotation is essential to break pest and disease cycles, and this is a crucial component of Stockfree Organic systems. Good husbandry and hygienic practices are key, as are using strategic planting dates and mixed cropping.
Challenges and Solutions
Growing without livestock-derived inputs does present challenges. Phosphate and nitrogen availability, as well as building soil health in general, is particularly difficult without applying manure. Stockfree Organic farmers and growers are deeply interested in soil fertility and see this not as a function of the amount of fertiliser applied but as a function of soil biology itself. Get the biology right and abundance will follow. Therefore, the focus in Stockfree Organic systems is on making the best use of nutrients and fertility from the atmosphere and deep underground. This creates the ideal environment for soil bacteria to thrive; offering air, water, and nutrients to plants.
The solution is to be found in extensive rotations with good fertility breaks and appropriate tillage (often kept to a minimum or ceased altogether) factored in. Green manures must be incorporated into every part of the rotation, say for 5 or 6 years out of an 8-year rotation, and both before and after cropping. In-situ composting operations are another vital method of maintaining biological activity. Woodchip in particular is very useful for achieving this, bringing organic matter in from areas that otherwise can’t be cropped.
Stockfree Organic farmers and growers must also consider how to maintain their leys. Without grazing, the solution is usually through topping, done several times throughout the year. There are also associated costs to take into consideration, such as the additional diesel requirement, and loss of income from grazing.
It is clear that Stockfree Organic farmers and growers must think long and hard about how their systems work. But this can also be a benefit, leading to a closer understanding of the ecosystem of your farm, both macro and micro. This in turn can lead to a deeper appreciation for the soil and the life it sustains. And it is obvious that the knowledge, ingenuity and persistence of Stockfree Organic farmers and growers is something that we can all learn from.
If you are interested in applying for the Stockfree Organic Standard please contact your Certification Officer, who can arrange for it to be added to your annual organic inspection. You can find more information on the Stockfree Organic website, or by contacting the Vegan Organic Network.