Sumption, Phil (2004) Conversion to Organic Field Vegetable Production (Phase 2). Henry Doubleday Research Association.
Introduction, aims and objectives
When this project began in 1996 the UK supply of organic vegetables, from 2400 hectares, was insufficient to meet the growing market and the majority of organic vegetables were imported. It was a policy objective to enable UK farmers to meet the demands of this growing market. A farmer converting to organic agriculture is faced with a range of specific agronomic and economic challenges different from those of conventional agriculture and of established organic systems and a lack of knowledge about these challenges was recognised as a major barrier for individual farmers considering conversion. The overall aim of this project was therefore to provide information on the agronomic and economic performance of farming systems which included field vegetables as part of their rotations during the conversion period and in the years immediately afterwards. The project was commissioned in 1996 as Project OF0126T, later continued as OF0191; this report describes the findings from both projects. The projects were led by HDRA with HRI (now Warwick HRI), EFRC (Elm Farm Research Centre), and the Institute of Rural Sciences (University of Wales, Aberystwyth) as subcontractors.
The main objectives were:
1. To convert 12 ha (Hunts Mill) of the farm at HRI Wellesbourne to an organic system, with a rotation including field vegetables and arable crops.
2. To assess agronomic and economic performance of the crops grown, soils, weeds, pest and diseases, during conversion and for the first target rotation at Hunts Mill.
3. To assess the overall agronomic and financial performance during the first full cycle of the rotations at Hunts Mill, comparing scenarios where the initial fertility building phase was 29 months, 17 or 7 months.
4. To assess the agronomic and economic performance during conversion at 10 commercial reference farms, representing contrasting scenarios of organic vegetable production.
5. To interpret and evaluate the data and to produce information appropriate to aid farmers who are undergoing, or who are considering undergoing conversion to organic systems, and to aid future policy making on related farming issues.
The reference farms were selected to represent three different scenarios of conversion (from conventional arable, from conventional intensive vegetable and from conventional mixed farms with livestock). The farms represented a range of sizes and were located in all the principle vegetable growing areas of England. The assessment period covered the two-year conversion period itself plus at least the first three years of certified organic production. The basic experimental approach was to use all the farms as case studies for monitoring and documenting the performance of the systems undergoing conversion. Comparisons were made between Hunts Mill and the reference farms and also between the reference farms representing the same vegetable production scenario and between the three different scenarios.
See main document for a summary of findings.
More specific key agronomic and economic findings can also be found in the main report.
The project has demonstrated that the process of conversion from conventional agriculture to organic vegetables production is often quite complex involving a significant number of innovations and restructuring of the farm systems, including changes in production, the introduction of new enterprises and marketing methods. These have resulted in a number of physical, financial and management changes both during the transition process and on the final organic farm businesses. The project has demonstrated that large-scale organic vegetable production is technically feasible, with soil fertility, weeds and pest and disease problems overcome without too much difficulty. The biggest challenges have been marketing, managing labour and making it financially viable at the farm level. Organic Farming Scheme payments have only made small contributions to the ‘cost of conversion’. Conversions, especially on the larger farms, would seem to be preferable over a 5 to 10 year period, allowing time to make the necessary learning and adjustments.
Monitoring at Hunts Mill has been extended until 2006 as part of a new project: Organic field vegetable production – baseline monitoring of systems with different fertility building strategies (OF 0332). Monitoring of some of the reference farms has continued as part of the project The Sustainable Vegetable Systems Network (OF 0340). This project monitors agronomy and economics and aims to assist in the development of established organic vegetable systems. Economic conditions change and the impact of the new CAP reforms beginning in 2005 would merit further research. The models developed within this project could form the basis for this work.
|Type of Facility:||Other|
|Keywords:||vegetables, horticulture, conversion, crop rotations, economics, crops, soil fertility, weeds, pests, diseases, arable, knowledge transfer|
|Subjects:|| Crop husbandry > Production systems > Vegetables|
Knowledge management > Education, extension and communication > Technology transfer
|Research affiliation:|| UK > Garden Organic (HDRA)|
UK > Univ. Warwick, HRI
UK > Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
|Research funders:||UK > Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)|
|Deposited By:||Defra, R&D Organic Programme|
|Deposited On:||10 Mar 2006|
|Last Modified:||12 Apr 2010 07:32|
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