Postgraduate research in organic farming (Organised by SRUC)

The session aimed to explore issues associated with economic viability as related to herd size and the pros and cons of direct marketing and/or on farm processing (e.g. raw milk, dairy products) as well as impact on costs of production.

Robin Walker (SRUC): Chair

Session summary

The session began with presentations from two current postgraduate students researching in organic agriculture. This was followed by a workshop run by Stephen Meredith of IFOAM EU to identify some of the challenges postgraduate students in organic agriculture are currently facing and how the organisation might be able to help address some of these challenges going forwards. The workshop members proposed that some of the biggest issues were: that it is not easy to find out what other organic postgraduate workers exist or what they are working on; difficulty getting access to current and previous research; a lack of funding for research in the sector; and difficultly connecting to practitioners to help understand current knowledge gaps.

Key conclusions

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • Post-graduate students in organic agriculture feel isolated in the current system
  • Young researchers need more help in developing links with organic practitioners to enable them to identify pertinent research questions and also need help to identify funding opportunities to conduct this research.
  • Better dissemination is required of the research topics that have already been investigated and are currently underway. There needs to be better visibility of research, especially at a postgraduate level and in relation to unpublished research projects etc.
  • One possibility suggested to help resolve these problems was the development of a website that contains information on current and previous researchers and research projects.
  • Another potential solution included the possible facilitation of regular meetings between postgraduate researchers on a regular basis.

Individual speaker presentations and abstracts

Laurence Smith (ORC): Modelling the effects of a large scale conversion to organic farming in England and Wales (369kb pdf file)

As part of a PhD study exploring the environmental impacts of a 100% conversion to organic farming in England and Wales, a number of methods and approaches for scaling up organic agriculture at a national level have been considered. This presentation will provide an overview of the modelling approaches reviewed and the methods selected for the study. Challenges in terms of the modelling process and data gaps will be highlighted in addition to early outputs relating to the energy and nitrogen efficiency of organic systems.

Federico Filippi (Coventry University): Investigating the potential of applying permaculture principles to UK arable farming (2.13mb pdf file)

Federico’s research aims to:

  1. Assess the existing permaculture arable/field scale projects currently in operation across the UK, giving agronomic, social and philosophical aspects equal importance.
  2. Assess his own arable project over a minimum of four years, on the basis of its productivity, environmental and social impacts and economic/commercial viability.
  3. Engage with other permaculture projects (as well as selected alternative farming projects) over the course of the research period, with a view to co-ordinating joint experiments/cropping comparisons etc…
  4. Draw conclusions on the implications and wider potential of arable permaculture for UK food production and security. I will hypothesise whether the UK could be agriculturally self-sufficient and, if so, what form this agricultural system might take and what its social, economic and other implications would be.


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