This literature review was delivered to MAFF in August 1995 and covered water and atmospheric pollution, ecosystems, soil quality, aspects of livestock management and landscape implications. Conclusions included that there is less risk of water pollution, phosphate and nitrate leaching from organic farms; nitrous oxide and methane emissions are less from organic systems, but not necessarily ammonia; crop rotations and maintenance of field boundaries on organic farms benefit a wide range of organisms; organic management practices increas soil organic matter and earthworm numbers; organic farmers adopt practicves which benefit the landscape.
OF0123. The effects of organic farming on aspects of the environment
Proponents of organic farming believe that organic practices protect the environment from harm and encourage natural processes that will correct damage previously caused by conventional farming practices. However, a strongly held counter view suggests that the harm caused by conventional farming is overstated and that many conventional farmers undertake similar practices to those of their organic counterparts, with comparable results. This desk study proposes to review published and other available data on the environmental impact of organic farming and horticultural systems with standard Good Agricultural Practice. Effects of organic management will be investigated on the following: terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, including the effects of crop sequence, use of chemicals and habitat management and creation; quality of ground and surface waters, including diffuse and point source pollution by plant nutrients and organic material, nitrate and organic chemicals; soil quality as determined by organic matter content, resilience to cultivation practices and accumulation of contaminants; side-effects of the use of veterinary medicines on organic livestock; and aspects of atmospheric pollution, such as odours and methane production. A recent report by the Countryside Commission on the impact of organic farming systems on the landscape will also be reviewed, but it is not envisaged that new sources of such information will be sought unless serious shortcomings are discovered. It is anticipated that the study will provide information on the environmental benefits of organic farming in general and of specific organic practices. The conclusions may have implications for the development of mainstream agriculture if clear benefits are shown.