Organic management on a landscape scale
- Conference Overview
Sessions & Workshops
Organic farming has often been thought of as an activity for individual farms, but the opportunity for clusters of organic farms to make significant changes at local or regional level is significant. These workshops explored how group initiatives can generate more environmental benefits, while at the same time opening economic opportunities for local organic food markets and processing, agri-tourism and more.
Eco-regional development: examples from abroad
Session chaired by Lawrence Woodward (Whole Health Agriculture) with Hardy Vogtmann
After a highly influential career at the forefront of developing all aspects of organic farming Prof. Dr Hardy Vogtmann placed organic approaches at the centre of regional development and nature conservation in Germany firstly as President of Regional Development in the State of Hesse and then as President of the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation. The presentation drew on Hardy Vogtmann’s unique experience at the forefront of organic agriculture, regional development and nature conservation in Germany and throughout the world. He described several successful examples and how they came about practically and politically.
Catchment Sensitive Farming: Improving air and water quality
Philippa Mansfield (Natural England), with support from Alex Lowe (Natural England)
Catchment sensitive farming (CSF) has focused on reducing pollution of watercourses in a region, but so far limited attention has been paid to the positive contribution that organic land management might make, but also to some of the risks that organic producers need to be aware of. This workshop looked at the opportunities for greater engagement of organic producers in CSF initiatives and the support available.
- Philippa Mansfield (Natural England) and Alex Lowe (Natural England) Catchment Sensitive Farming and farmers improving water and air quality
Natural England’s Catchment Sensitive Farming scheme offers free advice to farmers within areas at risk from diffuse water and air pollution (50% of England is high priority for water pollution). The main issues addressed are sediment loss, phosphate and nitrate runoff, pesticide and faecal pollution. Air pollution issues arise mainly from ammonia emissions, with dairy and beef cattle being the biggest source, followed by fertilisers, pig and poultry units. While organic management removes some problems, pollution risks still exist where manure and slurry management are poor, nitrogen leaching when leys are ploughed up and sediment run-off from bare soil. Organic farmers are encouraged to work with their local Catchment Sensitive Farming Officer (CSFO) to prepare Shared Nitrogen Action Plans (SNAPs) and soil management plans. SNAPS map sources of nitrogen pollution on a farm so practical steps can be identified to reduce and mitigate nitrogen impacts. Typical interventions include keeping rainwater out of cattle yards by covering with a roof to avoid dilution of manure, putting covers over slurry lagoons to retain ammonia (reduces emissions by 60-80%), timely cultivation, retaining sediment on fields by erecting porous fences, and fencing off water courses to prevent livestock defecating in them. Many interventions can be paid for with grants, such as via the Countryside Stewardship scheme and CSFOs can advise on funding. For organic farmers such advice can be especially helpful in balancing trade-offs between positive practices, such as avoiding housing livestock where possible (more ammonia created by housed livestock as urea and manure are mixed) and negative ones such as winter poaching from cattle and pigs overwintered outdoors. A lively Q&A followed, during which the speakers were asked why they did not advocate organic management more strongly when it has potential to bring so many benefits.
- Many practical solutions and technological interventions exist to reduce air and water pollution and CSFOs can provide free advice and signposting towards funding.
- Organic farming brings many benefits for catchment management, but is not a panacea if risks from manure/slurry/ploughing up of leys are not addressed.
- More could be done by Natural England to promote organic conversion as a way of addressing many water and air pollution issues, as the knowledge exists for addressing nitrogen leaching and other problems associated with organics.
- CSF is making a diffuse, piecemeal positive impact, but farming is only one of a number of pollution sources, as catchments face additional pressures from housing developments and sewage management.
- Organic Research Centre to work with Catchment Sensitive Farming on the benefits of organic management to give them the confidence to promote whole farm organic management as a key method for achieving objectives of reducing nutrient run off, water and air pollution.
- Specific advice to be developed for organic farmers on how to reduce risks of runoff from practices such as ploughing in leys to address issues relating to organic nutrient management practices.
- All farmers to make use of CSF’s online resources for which links are available in slides from the presentation (fact sheets, videos and 'kitchen science' activities to assess soil conditions etc) to improve water, soil, nutrient and air quality management.
Making it happen at home
Chaired by Liz Bowles (Soil Association) witha panel discussion featuring Maggie Charnley (Defra), Tom Rigby (Johnson’s Farm), Josh Dugdale (Wasing Estate) and Gareth Morgan (RSPB)
After examining the purpose and outcomes of the England Organic Action Plan, a panel of policy makers and farmers debated what this means for the organic sector—and future government policy