Organic farming: definition, advantages and logo

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organic farming

To guarantee a production method that respects the environment, biodiversity and animal welfare, organic farming is subject to very strict regulations. What are these ecological standards and the necessary ecological logo? And for what products? In this article, we’ll explain about organic farming in the UK and how it helps the environment.

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What is organic farming?

organic sustainable farming

Organic farming, also called biological or ecological agriculture, is an agricultural production system based on practices that respect the environment:

  • Sustainable agricultural management without the use of chemicals;
  • Respect for biodiversity;
  • The preservation of natural resources;
  • The welfare of animals;
  • A production method that uses natural substances and products.

Therefore, organic farming is at the centre of sustainable development. It is an important source of employment in the UK and contributes to the development of the economy and society.

Is there a difference between organic, green and bio farming? While all three concepts are used interchangeably because they are all very similar, there are some very subtle differences. Bio farming goes slightly further than organic farming in ensuring it meets strict standards, with attempts made to reduce any kind of outside influence in the process. Animal feed and natural fertilisers, for example, are all made on the farm. Green farming places slightly more of a focus on maintaining soil quality - reducing erosion, using organic matter, and keeping more carbon in the soil.

Organic farming definitionAccording to the Department for Agriculture and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), organic farming is “a systems approach to production that is working towards environmentally, socially and economically sustainable production. Instead, the agricultural systems rely on crop rotation, animal and plant manures, some hand weeding and biological pest control”.

The benefits of organic farming

Organic farming has many benefits, particularly for the environment and overcoming the issues caused by global warming. Some of the advantages of organic farming include:

  • Reduced exposure to pesticides and chemicals: When these products are sprayed onto produce, they can also contaminate the soil, water, and air;
  • Organic farming means improved soil quality: Without the use of chemicals, the soil in which to grow plants and crops improves, meaning the quality of the produce is better;
  • Reduces erosion: Organic farming leads to less erosion of the topsoil compared to industrial farming that uses chemicals and pesticides. Overgrazing and overfarming can eventually lead to desertification;
  • Helps combat climate change: Organic farming produces less carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, one of the most harmful greenhouse gases that contributes to global warming and climate change;
  • Preserves water health and conservation: One of the key benefits of organic farming is the preservation of the water supply. With drought and water scarcity being a key problem in many areas around the world, the lack of chemicals involved in organic farming means there is no runoff into rivers and streams.

Disadvantages of organic farming

There are of course some disadvantages to organic farming that need to be taken into consideration too, such as:

organic farming disadvantages
  • Use of organic chemicals or pesticides: Some farmers resort to using organic chemicals and pesticides. While not as harmful as their synthetic counterparts, it raises the question: is it really organic then?
  • Chemicals on the farmland: Because of the widespread use of synthetic chemicals, even if a farmer is intending to grow produce organically, it may not actually be 100% organic because the soil could be contaminated with chemicals;
  • Higher costs involved: Throughout the process of organic farming the costs tend to be higher compared with traditional farming. It is also more labour intensive;
  • Machinery used is not environmentally-friendly: With the best will in the world, while organic farming helps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the machinery involved as well as the transport used to move produce off the farm and into the supermarket chain is often run on fossil fuels - so does that mitigate the positives?

Facts about organic farming in the UK

The UK has a long association with organic farming and has often been a leader when it comes to revolutionising the farming industry. The Soil Association was formed as far back as 1946 and by 2008, the nation was the third-largest market of organic food in Europe, despite having less land comparative to competitors such as Germany, France and Spain, for example.

Data released by the DEFRA for the year 2019 showed just how important organic farming is in the UK.

  • In 2019, there were 6,100 organic farms in the UK;
  • The nation counted on 485,000 hectares of organic farmland, an increase of 2.4% from the previous year;
  • 3.1% of the cattle population in the UK was reared organically;
  • Almost two thirds (63%) of organic land is accounted for by permanent grassland.

Organic farmers near meIf you are looking for an organic farm nearby to buy local produce - one way to reduce your own personal carbon footprint - a search online will show you the nearest options. Alternatively, groups such as the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) will be able to point you in the right direction and help with any questions you may have.

Examples of organic farming in the UK

Across the country there are thousands of farms dedicated to organic methods, whether that is for meat or plant produce. In this section, we will look at organic farming examples in the UK and the methods involved.

Organic pig farming

Organic pig farming involves giving the pigs as much natural space as they need - almost as if they were living in the wild. That way, the pigs can develop naturally and follow their natural instincts to be inquisitive, playful and sociable. Being free has two main benefits compared with pigs raised using other methods: they have stronger muscles and are less likely to develop diseases - both of which mean the pork is of higher quality.

The decline in organic pig numbersFigures published by Statistica show that the number of organic pigs in the UK has been in decline for the past four years, with 31,384 in 2020, down from 39,076 in 2017.

Organic dairy farming

The treatment of cattle in dairy farming has long been a concern but the tide is changing in the UK, with more farmers in this sector focusing on the welfare of the animals. An example of this is The Ethical Dairy, which switched methods to keep calves with their mothers rather than separate within a few hours of birth, which is what happens in traditional dairy farming. The results of the move were hugely beneficial in terms of the animals’ happiness, and therefore on the quality of products such as milk and cheese.

Organic chicken farming

Britons now eat more chicken than any other meat. The chicken producing industry has been under pressure to keep up with demand and in recent years there have been many issues highlighted with factory-farmed chickens. Organic chicken farming involves rearing fewer chickens and at a slower pace - so they are able to roam free, eat and forage on organic pasture, and indulge in their natural behaviours. In 2020, there were around 3.5 million organically produced chickens in the UK.

In 2010, the European organic logo became mandatory on all organic products packaged in the European Union, as well as the numerical code of the authorised control body.

The organic logo

The organic logo

organic logo
It is mandatory for all prepackaged products in the European Union and optional for imported products. Since Brexit, the government has issued advice saying use of the EU organic logo is optional. If it is used, the products should meet the EU labelling requirements.

Therefore, to obtain and maintain organic certification, the operator must adhere to strict regulations. Some examples of rules to follow:

  • No pesticides or synthetic chemical fertilizers;
  • Without any kind of GMO;
  • The welfare of the animals is respected during the breeding process;
  • Waste recycling and organic waste recycling;
  • Crop rotation for soil regeneration;
  • Respect for the environment and preservation of natural resources;
  • Provisions to avoid contamination during production and storage.

GMO: DefinitionA Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic heritage has been modified to give it a new property that improves, for example, the cultivation of a plant or its nutritional qualities.

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