Best practices in farming - The way to a ‘more’

“We predict major shortfalls in production of most agricultural products against a conventional baseline”, was a statement in a study of the Cranfield University comparing organic with conventional farming. The authors described that a 100% shift to organic farming in England and Wales would result in greater GHG emissions due to a yield gap – organic farming would yield less compared to conventional farming. The actually lower GHG emissions in organic farming would thus be offset by a much worse GHG balance from increased food imports and increased acreage.
This poorer GHG balance could then be compensated only by changes in consumer behavior (less meat) and less food waste.

In our frequent interaction with farmers and off taking food companies, we as Soil & More Impacts experience actually a more overarching debate. Representatives from both conventional as well as organic farming agree that globally circumstances for production become more difficult. Very short the argument: climate change leads to more volatile, unexpected weather events and thus the need for more climate adaptive, resilient farming systems. This is a pressing reality, day in, day out.  

More sustainable farming practices (‘best practices’) are therefore needed.  Contributions from organic farming lead hereby to very important insights on the ‘how to’.

What is needed are impactful interventions, that deal most effectively with the challenges currently experienced in agriculture.  

Organic farming and ‘best practice’ methods?

The main message of the Cranfield study contains no new argument.  The focus was on basic organic farming standards. Often, conventional farming methods have been compared to such basic organic farming standards. Although there is quite a broader array of organic standards, as well as this argument goes for conventional farming.

The concept of organic farming is defined by standards. This mainly means the non-use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. However, this is not identical to the use of best practices. Most of the standards include none or only a few 'best practices' which e.g. sequester carbon and are important for sustainable and regenerative agriculture.

Such ‘best practices’ as:

  • mulch, under sown crops, soil cover
  • cover crops
  • conservation tillage
  • alley cropping
  • crop rotations
  • composting
  • agroforestry and living barriers

These ‘best practices’ need to be (partially) applied only in some advanced organic standards, for example in Demeter agriculture (biodynamic), in Bioland, Naturland, and some others. The Soil Association standard in the UK, certainly part of the Cranfield study, is also a standard with more restrictions compared to EU organic but not as advanced as e.g. Demeter.

And to apply ‘best practices’ the specific context is important.  

The way to a ‘more’

Multiple studies have shown that organic farming incorporating these ‘best practices’ can close the yield gap to conventional farming and is more profitable (included a few studies on global scale, temperate climate, tropical climate). What can be learned from this?
If we drill down these studies and our infield experiences, the reason for the better results are:

1. the higher resilience of sustainable agricultural systems, and

2. the regeneration of natural resources.

This is because ‘best practices’ result in:

  • more protection against soil erosion
  • more soil moisture
  • more crop diversity
  • more protection against drought impacts
  • more carbon sequestration
  • more soil fertility
  • more stability and more savings

So it's not just 'less', it's about 'more' : a more of diversity, a more of holding capacity of water and nutrients, and a more long-term sustainable food production, in more harmony with society.

More positive impacts!
These are aspects that could — or as contribution to the overarching debate even should —  also have been considered by the Cranfield study.

The conclusion - with a much smaller yield gap, the additional imports and acreages would be minimal and so would be the GHG emissions.

And at least some urgency to move ahead can be felt to step up, show leadership and to do MORE.


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