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Reviewing Opportunities, Barriers and Constraints for Organic Management Techniques to Improve Sustainability of Conventional Farming. - OF03101


Organic farming requires operation of a system based on ecological principles and imposes strict limitations on inputs allowed to minimise impact on the environment and wildlife. Some of the main components of an organic farming system are the avoidance of artificial fertilisers and pesticides. Therefore, Organic farmers are compelled to think carefully about strategies to manage soil fertility and control weeds, pests and diseases. For example, organic farmers may rely on improving soil nutrient status through the careful management of organic matter inputs, the use of cover/break crops or by optimising their rotations. Livestock also form an integral part of the majority of organic farms, although there are successful stockless systems. Organic standards do not allow continuously housed stock or systems where a large amount of total feed has to be bought in. Pigs and poultry must be managed with extensive outdoor access.
Currently, the organically farmed area represents 2.9% of the total farmed area on agricultural holdings in the United Kingdom. Permanent pasture accounts for the biggest share of the organic area (66%) followed by temporary pasture (18%) and cereals (7.6%). The three main crop types grown organically are cereals, vegetables including potatoes, and other arable crops. Poultry and sheep remain the most popular livestock types farmed.
Although organic farming accounts for a relatively small proportion of UK food production the sector has employed innovative solutions to reduce reliance on inputs and maintain production under resource limited conditions. The strategies developed by organic farmers to reduce reliance on inputs are likely to have wider application in ‘conventional’ farming systems.


This project aims to learn lessons from the experience of the organic sector, and examine the viability of translating these into best practice for ‘conventional’ farming systems. The project will review practices used in organic farming and apply these, where appropriate, to conventional farms. This project aims consider what can be learnt from organic production methods to improve agricultural sustainability in a wider arena. The study will consider strategies used in organic farming and assess opportunities, practicalities and barriers of translating best practice management techniques from organic to conventional farms. The study will examine potential impacts on farm income, productivity and risk.

Policy background

The overarching policy background supporting this call for research is framed by the Defra strategy which sets out Defra’s goal to make the UK a world-leading food and farming nation and to provide a cleaner and healthier environment benefiting the economy. This research aims to develop an evidence base of organic farming techniques with the greatest sustainability potential and practicality of application to conventional farms.
This call specifically addresses the following challenges set out in the food and farming evidence plan:

• Increasing exports and making the food industry more competitive
• Increasing food production while improving the environment
• Building a sustainable food chain
• Using evidence and research

• To identify organic farming practices that would deliver both agronomic and wider sustainability benefits for conventional farming systems, review what is already adopted within conventional systems, forms best practice or is actively promoted through bespoke initiatives i.e. Agricology, Integrated Farm Management and LEAF Marque.

• From this work prioritise a range of techniques that (a) are used within conventional farming but are not fully ‘mainstream’, (b) used by early or niche adopters or (c) not currently adopted in conventional farming. The focus should be those that might practically be translated to conventional farming or their adoption adopted in a more widespread way.

• To evaluate, for short-listed practices, costs and benefits of applying techniques to conventional farms, including a review of potential impacts on farm income, productivity and risk implications.

• To explore key current and future barriers to adoption of those practices from organic to conventional farming e.g. stakeholder attitudes, current uncertainty of economic climate, investment costs.

• To identify key drivers that might stimulate adoption of organic farming techniques, and the principal levers or catalysts acting on those drivers.

• To involve relevant industry stakeholders at all stages and take their views into account, especially for developing future collaborative actions to promote.
Project Documents
• FRP - Final Report : Final report OF03101 OF03111   (1708k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2018

To: 2018

Cost: £47,564
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Organic Research Centre
Environmental Protection              
Organic Farming              
Sustainable Consumption and Production              
Sustainable Farming and Food