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The organic sector has voiced concerns over the Government’s ‘public money for public goods’ farming strategy, fearing it is ignoring the value of organic options.
The English Organic Forum (EOF), which represents organic farming organisations and businesses, is concerned that whilst the government’s proposal has many valid points, it hasn’t yet specifically recognised the important role that organic farming can play in delivering public goods or the vital importance of whole farming systems.
It comes as National Trust highlighted the success of organic farming in its recently published Farm Health Check report. The study offered a full ‘health check’ into the biodiversity, carbon levels and levels of public accessibility at Wimpole Estate Home Farm, the only farm the National Trust manages directly.
The farm, which has been organic for 12 years, has seen a number of achievements, including a doubling in the number of breeding pairs of skylarks and linnets in the last six years, a 150 percent increase in hymenoptera (wasps, bees and ants), and the recording to over 1,100 invertebrate species, including 95 rare and protected species that are vital to pollinating crops and preying on pests. The report also showed a total carbon balance of -2,260 tonnes of CO2 per year achieved through the amount of organic matter in the soil which soaks up carbon, the number of trees and grown out hedges.
The report provides further evidence to support the merits of organic farming, according to Mark Harold, National Trust director of land and nature. “This is a story of hope and optimism – and the Government’s forthcoming ‘environmental land management scheme’ will be crucial to replicating this across the farming industry, as will the new Agriculture Bill in prioritising government support for this scheme.”
Speaking about the importance of the report and the need for the Government to take note, EOF co-chairman Christopher Stopes added: “We are delighted with the National Trust results. We can see that the Trust is supportive of sustainable approaches across all farming practices and the results from the farm at Wimpole clearly show that organic fits into that very well. And their publication is timely because the whole farm system approach demonstrated so well at Wimpole has not yet been recognised in the government’s proposals.”
The Trust’s Wimpole estate is a mixed farm with a predominantly arable system that integrates cereals with fertility building clover leys, green manures and livestock. The team, led by farm manager Callum Weir, believes the recent results offer a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem that’s a direct result of their holistic approach, proving that nature-friendly farming and a profitable farm business can go hand-in-hand.
“It is this whole system approach that brings production, ecology and environment together in a way which optimises food production alongside the delivery of public goods,” Stopes said.
“Providing a menu of techniques which farmers can choose to take up has merit. However, as Wimpole Farm demonstrates, the whole farm system approach is critical and we are deeply concerned that this is being overlooked by Defra.”
Stopes comments are supported by John Pawsey, chair of the NFU Organic Forum, who farms 1,500 hectares in Suffolk: “This is an exciting time for all farmers but especially for anyone considering organic farming. The National Trust has shown at Wimpole how organic farming makes commercial and environmental sense. I hope the Government will take note of these impressive results and put in place a framework which allows organic farming to flourish in this country as it has elsewhere in the world.”
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