In response to Professor Tony Trewavas’ criticism of organic farming methods (Letters, 26 March) which argues that “organic yields per farm and thus land area will always be disadvantaged and remain poor”, there is a huge amount of evidence to support the strong public benefits which organic farming provides – in particular biodiversity, water quality and animal welfare – so this very much depends on how you define “disadvantaged” and “poor”, and whether you take environmental care into consideration.
In economic terms, the report published this month by the Soil Association, Organic farming: how it stacks up, looks at the economics of organic farming – and it is looking very good for the sector.
The average annual farm business income (pounds per hectare) over the six-year period shows that organic enterprises in England and Wales are outperforming non-organic, in some sectors to the tune of almost £80 per hectare per year.
Even between 2008 and 2011, when UK organic sales were in decline, organic farming remained more profitable than non-organic production for most farm types.
In parallel to this, a recent large-scale meta-analysis of research on organic farming showed organic farms have on average 34 per cent more species than non-organic farms and 50 per cent more pollinators, showing that there is an environmental, as well as an economic, benefit to organic farming.
The UK organic market has grown by 2.8 per cent in the past year.
Last year we had shortages of organic beef and eggs in the early autumn, and many supply chains are looking at how best to increase domestic supply of a range of products, showing that there is a growing demand for organic food and farming, and therefore opportunities for more farmers to get involved in organic production.
Soil Association Scotland
Carolyn Taylor (Letters, 27 March) accuses Professor Tony Trewavas of stating that “a belief in the efficacy of organic farming is merely an ‘uncritical opinion’”.
What Prof Trewavas did was to set out the evidence on the respective merits of organic versus conventional farming. Carolyn Taylor responds with a diatribe that misrepresents what Prof Trewavas actually said and goes on to rail against GM and to modestly declare that “the only certainty is that the GM industry is profiting from the misfortune of those who are least able to defend their rights”.
This “certainty” is derived from the views of a minority who see organic farming as the solution to feeding the planet. The majority contrary agricultural and UN view does not merit a mention in the world of “certainty” inhabited by Carolyn Taylor.
The “uncritical certainty” on this issue and on many others where science and hard evidence are derided in favour of the assertions of zealots is both offensive and dangerous and has to be confronted at every turn.
Prof Trewavas has done us all a favour by doing just that.
Gordon H Macspadden