Lyn White from the Soil Association explains how organic farming can help to reduce resource use, and some practical courses to help set you on your way.
Soil Association Scotland is the Scottish office of the Soil Association, the UK's leading membership charity campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use. The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by a group of farmers, scientists and nutritionists who observed a direct connection between farming practice and plant, animal, human and environmental health. Soil Association Scotland was set up in 2002 to bring Soil Association expertise closer to producers, consumers and policy makers in Scotland.
What is Organic farming?
The Soil Association’s definition of organic farming recognises the direct connection between our health and how the food we eat is produced. Artificial fertilisers are banned and farmers develop fertile soil by rotating crops and using compost, manure and clover. Strict regulations, known as ‘standards’, define what organic farmers can and cannot do – and place a strong emphasis on the protection of wildlife and the environment.
Taking its name from the organic matter that farmers use as an alternative to synthetic fertilisers, organic farmers take a holistic, principled approach that respects and harnesses the power of natural processes to build positive health across the ecology of the farm.
Organic farming is less dependent on oil-based fertilisers and pesticides and confers resilience in the face of climatic extremes, also storing higher levels of carbon in the soil. The soil is a living entity, not just a medium in which to grow plants. It is also our most valuable resource – without it we could not grow the nourishing food we need to live. Organic farming is a holistic, low-input agricultural production system working with, rather than against, natural systems.
The soil is the heart of an organic system, feeding plants via intricate relationships with microflora and fauna. Microbial activity within the soil processes organic matter to provide a range of minerals and nutrients. These are used by the crop to achieve healthy, vigorous growth. Biodiversity within the system and optimum crop health work together to minimise the incidence of pest and disease attack.The nutrient cycle is completed by returning organic matter/fertility back to the soil that has been removed through production and harvest of the crop. The building and maintenance of soil structure and the provision of essential nutrients and minerals, including N, P & K, is therefore achieved using a number of fundamental processes, including:
It is essential that these principles and practices are seen as the primary tools to maintain an effective organic system. Under Soil Association standards, any additional inputs should be viewed only as supplements - and not substitutes - to the system, and should only be called upon when absolutely necessary.
- Planting legumes
- Effective crop rotations
- Incorporating green manures
- Appropriate application and incorporation of composts and composted farm yard manure (FYM).
Did you know 1.2% of the world’s energy is used to produce N fertiliser?
In organic farming artificial chemical fertilisers are prohibited. Just say no to N2O! Soil Association Scotland’s varied programme of work supports sustainable farming methods through a range of different projects, so if you are interested in organic food and farming There are a number of ways to get involved;
- Visit an organic farm and buy organic food – our website has a list of organic box schemes in Scotland.
- Sign up to our Supporter E-news and be one of the first to know the latest Soil Association campaigns and breaking news
- Follow @SoilAssocScot on twitter.
- Attend one of our events as part of Future Proofing Scotland’s Farming Programme or Scotland’s Farming Innovation Network.
- Support sustainable food served outside the home through Food for Life Scotland, the Soil Association’s programme aiming to transform food culture across the country. A growing number of organisations across Scotland are committing to serving more fresh, local, seasonal produce with the Food for Life Catering Mark, including Highland Council for their school meals service.
- Join our very popular Crofting Connections food education project for schools in Scotland. Crofting Connections supports young people aged 3 to 18 living in remote rural communities throughout the Highlands & Islands to learn about crofting past, present and future.