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Environmental and biodiversity impacts of organic farming in the hills and uplands of Wales

Fowler, Susan; Frost, David and de Carle, Caroline (editor): Fowler, Susan (Ed.) (2004) Environmental and biodiversity impacts of organic farming in the hills and uplands of Wales. Organic Centre Wales .

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1. Organic farming is based on principles of co-existence with natural systems, the minimisation of pollution and damage to the environment, and the promotion of the health of soil, plant and animal to produce healthy food with high standards of animal welfare and respect for the wider social and ecological impacts of the agricultural system.
2. Organic Farming has become an important aspect of EU agri-environment policy. Since the implementation of EC Reg. 2078/92 the EU promotes organic farming explicitly on its positive effects on the environment.
3. The environmental and biodiversity benefits of organic systems in the lowlands for mixed farming is generally accepted (Shepherd, 2003) but similar benefits for upland systems have not been identified. This report has been produced by OCW with funding from CCW to address this gap. Where relevant, means to ensure the beneficial impacts through changes to agri-environment schemes, organic standards, and education and dissemination are identified.
4. Hill and uplands are characterised as areas over 200m above sea level where the physical landscape results in production constraints.
5. Biodiversity losses linked to changes in hill and upland agriculture include the erosion of genetic diversity in farmed livestock and crops as well as in wildlife and flora, a reduction in habitat, soil and wildlife diversity and the loss of local knowledge and farming culture.
6. The organic approach to sustainable agriculture in hill or upland systems is through the use of multi species swards and mixed stocking.
7. The report identifies potential points of difference between organic and conventional management practices with regard to hill and upland farming and highlights research requirements to confirm or explore those potentials.
8. Conventional farms can adopt any or all of the practices of the organic farming system, but the engagement with the entire system and annual inspections are specific to the organic farmer.
9. The impacts are not just determined by the system of organic regulations and but also by the management ability and technical skills of the farmer and workers.
10. The practices on organic livestock farms identified that may differ from conventional and have direct biodiversity or environmental impacts are: lower stocking rates (overall manure loading maximum of 170kg/N/ha/yr); an adjustment of the stocking balance (increasing ratio of cattle to sheep); keeping indigenous breeds and strains adapted to the environmental conditions on the farm; limitation on products to control external parasites; reduction and restriction on the use of prophylactic veterinary medicines; the use of foragebased diets; storage and use of slurries, manures and composts, and constraints on the import and export of nutrients.
11. Organic practices in management of grassland and crops identified that may differ from conventional and have direct biodiversity or environmental impacts are: cessation of N fertiliser use; restriction on P & K use; use of lime to maintain pH; use of clovers and herbs in grass leys; cessation of use of chemical pesticides and all herbicides; mechanical and manual weed control and sensitive and timely cultivations; the use of mixed farm systems and rotations on in-bye land; the use of cover crops and undersowing; the use of green manures.
12. Organic regulations do not require habitat creation, but standards state, “that concern for the environment should manifest”…“in high standards of conservation management throughout the organic holding”.
13. Apart from practices that impact directly on biodiversity or the environment, each management decision on the farm will have knock-on effects that have their own consequences, for example welfare standards for livestock require bedding materials and greater housing space.
14. Organic farms operating solely in the hills and uplands can only be part of a system. Use of in-bye land or having a relationship with lowland holdings to provide winter-feed and forage is necessary to comply with regulations. This will increase the amount of lowland managed organically, bringing widely recognised environmental benefits.
15. Organic agriculture is, by legal definition, a system of production and is based on principles and uses practices adopted to optimise the health of the system. Any farmer may adopt individual practices, and the Tir Gofal scheme provides an opportunity for farmers to provide positive conservation measures, whether conventional or organic. Farming under the EU Regulation defining Organic farming provides assurance to the end consumer that the system used to produce or process the food product was according to that system. This provides a reliable means for consumers to support a system of agriculture that fits more closely with their expectations than intensive systems.
16. Any advantages of lower stocking rates and mixed stocking will only be maintained while organic farms are viable. Organic labelling provides an opportunity for consumers to make a positive choice for high welfare, environmentally benign systems; however the difficulties of marketing, the lack of consumer awareness of food production issues and unwillingness to pay are barriers to access to premium markets for many producers.
17. The potential benefits of individual practices outlined in the document are often clear, but there are currently few data to confirm the extent of some of the practices that may have most beneficial impact. The need for data on actual practices of the organic farmers in the hills and uplands is therefore highlighted.
18. Few Standards changes are recommended, however the monitoring of derogations to standards and use of restricted veterinary inputs is recommended.
19. Research and development needs, technical, education and dissemination, and agri-environment policy issues which may establish, ensure, or enhance the environmental and biodiversity impacts of organic farming in the hills and uplands are outlined.
20. Infrastructure work to integrate hill and upland and lowland systems is necessary to facilitate organic farming in the uplands; this may assist the viability of lowland organic holdings: the environmental benefits of which are established.

EPrint Type:Report
Keywords:environment, hill, upland, biodiversity, agri environment
Subjects: Environmental aspects > Biodiversity and ecosystem services
Research affiliation: UK > Univ. Aberystwyth > Organic Centre Wales (OCW)
Deposited By: Powell, Ms Jane
ID Code:10828
Deposited On:19 Jun 2007
Last Modified:12 Apr 2010 07:35
Document Language:English
Refereed:Not peer-reviewed

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