‘LAND SHARING’ rather than ‘land sparing’ should be the focus of future government policy, according to Organic Farmers and Growers.

Responding to suggestions that agricultural production on dedicated land should intensify, leaving designated spare land exclusively for nature, the organic certification body has instead recommended the widespread adoption of environmentally-friendly agricultural production, lessening the side effects of intensive production.

Acknowledging that farm businesses face increasing financial pressure as gross margins are constricted by market economics, OFG stressed that careful management of the land was crucial to halt both ‘economic and ecological' collapse.

“Land sparing seeks to intensify production on higher quality agricultural land while lower quality land is ‘spared’ for nature,” noted OFG chief executive Roger Kerr. “The thinking behind this approach is that any agricultural production negatively impacts wildlife, so there needs to be a greater separation of the two.

“Recently, Professor Sir Ian Boyd made a pronouncement suggesting half of UK agricultural land is reverted to natural habitats,” he said. "This kind of bold thinking should be applauded but suggesting that the resultant lost agricultural production could be made up by vertical farms seems to miss the point – vertical farms will be even more heavily reliant on external inputs for them to work than existing intensive agricultural systems."

This failed to address the continued soil degradation seen in intensive farming systems nor the greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the production of ammonium nitrate fertilisers, he warned. Despite ambitious yield aims, current plant technology had only delivered small incremental yield increases at best in recent years and genetic modification technology was yet to deliver yield increases.

Mr Kerr continued: “Land sharing comprises integrating agricultural production with more environmentally friendly techniques, bringing nature into the field rather than displacing it somewhere else. Agro-ecological and organic farming techniques and interrelated activities across the food supply network seek to simultaneously deliver multiple environmental benefits.

“Stacking a diverse range of benefits in this way is proven to be far more resilient in the face of both climatic and economic shocks than intensive mono-cropping that remains reliant on energy intensive and costly inputs.”

Mr Kerr dismissed the government’s land sharing approach as a reworking of ‘business as usual’, which he insisted was no longer an option. Instead, greater research funding should be targeted at organic production techniques, improving and optimising yield, producing good quality food as well as protecting the natural environment and realising ecologically rich landscapes. Organic research currently receives 2 to 3% of funding compared to the rest of the agricultural sector.

“Through organic approaches, we can make meaningful changes to the environment as well as create a sustainable food production future,” Mr Kerr continued. “For example, in 2017 alone, UK organic crops grown without synthetic inputs resulted in 300t less pesticide active ingredients and 40,000t less fertiliser being used. This reduced need for fossil fuel based inputs and resultant reduction in field operations significantly decreases GHG emissions,” he concluded.