Organic Farming - The Field Science Approach

For quite a few years, organic farmers were the butt of many "muck and magic" jokes coming from both the conventional sector and from commercial organisations who feared a loss of revenue if organic farming caught on in a big way. Since then, the world has changed. Costs in the conventional sector have escalated and there is a growing realisation that all agriculture, but particularly mainstream farming, has environmental implications.

The Nitrate Vulnerable Zones get larger every year; eutrophication from nutrient runoff is causing algal blooms and killing fish. This has led conventional farmers to reduce fertiliser and chemical usage and to start looking at more sustainable ways of doing things. In effect, they are moving closer to the organic methods and many a leaf is being taken out of the organic farmer's book. This is all highly encouraging to the organic sector and once the recession is over we will see further expansion - but only if organic prices are competitive and this is where we can help.

Field Science enables the organic farmer achieve yields much closer to conventional levels by identifying soil deficiencies that act as yield-limiting factors and restoring mineral balance. The conventional farmer has the option of achieving extra yield by "forcing" growth using more fertiliser, but his organic neighbour normally has to put up with deficiencies in the short to medium term until the previously conventional acreage has regained its natural fertility through weathering, crop rotation and the restoration of soil organic matter.

The Field Science system kick-starts that process. The restored minerals not only feed the crop, but also the plethora of beneficial biota that colonise a healthy soil. Mycorrhizae (root fungi) for example, create a soil matrix of mycelium that interconnects with plant roots, greatly increasing effective root surface area and thereby assisting the plant to uptake water and nutrients from the soil. This makes it faster growing and less drought-prone. Beneficial bacteria facilitate nitrogen fixation. There are many more benign organisms whose precise role has not yet been researched, but what they all have in common is the need for a healthy, mineral-rich soil in order to thrive. In conventional farming, heavy use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides suppresses these organisms, making the crop more dependent on chemical intervention. This means that without fertilisers, yields would be lower than on organic land which is why ex-conventional farms in organic conversion often have very poor yields for years until the soil comes back to life.

The best, long established organic farms in the UK are now achieving much closer to conventional yields and livestock growth rates and are profitable, but create a much smaller environmental footprint.