Britain lags behind the rest of Europe in its conversion to organic farming, and the Soil Association has recently called for the government to do more to support organic farming. Why is this? In a recent Area article, Ilbery and Maye (2011) briefly discuss the various reasons behind this slow conversion before analysing the current distribution of organic farms in Britain. Previous research has suggested that the delay to adopt organic farming is due to the lobbying power of the industrial food chains, and government disinterest. Much of the growth in the organic sector is as a result of local markets e.g. box schemes, farmers markets, farm shops and independent retailers.
The bulk of organic farming is in the south and west of an imaginary line drawn between Brighton, East Sussex, and Bangor, North Wales. Within this area three clusters are apparent: Wiltshire & Gloucestershire, Pembrokeshire & Ceredigion, East & West Sussex. Interestingly, much of the land east of the ‘Brighton-Bangor’ line is also the traditional farming land, but organic farming is conspicuously limited, and absent. The reason for this apparent line comes down to economics. To make a viable income many farmers have switched to organic farming for the premiums associated with organic foods. The cereal growers (the majority of farmers above the Brighton-Bangor line) receive subsidies and therefore do not have the economic incentive to switch to organic farming.
The debate around organic farming versus conventional farming is complex and polarized. How organic farming will fit in with government initiatives such as increased self-sufficiency in food production remains to be seen.
Ilbery, B. and Maye, D. 2011. Clustering and the spatial distribution of organic farming in England and Wales. Area, 43(1):31-41
Soil Association Website
UK is ‘lazy man of Europe’ when it comes to organics. BBC News Article. 10 February 2011.