Organic farming is a clearly defined system of production which has food quality, human health, environmental, animal welfare and socio-economic aims.
Organic Farming Systems
Organic farming is primarily based on the principles of enhancement and exploitation of the natural biological cycle.
In organic farming systems there is a strong emphasis on optimising animal welfare, avoiding pollution and improving the environmental infrastructure of the farm.
The aim of organic farming is to work with natural processes rather than seek to dominate them.
For detailed information on conversion to organic production, organic crops, and organic livestock, please follow the link on the right of this page and visit SRUC's Organic Farming web site.
An Introduction To Organic Vegetable Production In Scotland
Up to the year 2000 demand for organic vegetables had been increasing steadily, however, over 80% of the UK organic supply was still imported. Many of the types of crops being imported were at the same time being grown by conventional growers in Scotland.
This was recognised as offering a starting point for large-scale organic production.
Purchasers of organic produce are often keen to support local growers through box schemes and farmers' markets. This can make organic vegetable production viable on a much smaller scale than conventional production.
Essential Requirements for Organic Vegetable Production
Organic vegetable production is not an option for many farms because the soil and situation are unsuitable.
Land suitable for conventional vegetable production will sometimes be unsuitable for organic vegetable crops. This is especially the case when conventional production relies on synthetic fungicides to control soil borne diseases.
Programmed production of quality vegetables often requires expensive and sophisticated equipment not found on most farms. For example, irrigation and cooling equipment.
Mechanisation can drastically reduce labour requirments for transplanting and harvesting.
Vegetable crops are demanding of both manual and managerial labour. Labour difficulties of organic vegetable producers are compounded by the hand weeding requirements of many crops.
It is necesssary to "find a market before establishing a crop". Many vegetablels are highly perishable and if not marketed when mature they will quickly go to waste.
In Scotland almost all non organic vegetables are sold through traditional wholesale fruit and vegetable markets. This limits outlets available for produce not of supermarket quality.
Small-scale producers often market their crops direct to the public through box schemes or at the farm gate.
Vegetables in Scottish Organic Agriculture
Including vegetables in organic rotations has the potential to increase profitability of organic farms in Scotland.
Vegetables may be grown by the farmer himself or he may choose to follow common practice with conventional growers and rent ground to a specialist vegetable grower.
Premium rents are currently being paid for land of organic status.
Farms with the majority of the rotation in vegetables are common in the Lincolnshire Fens and Holland (due to good soils), but rare in Scotland.
Most vegetables in Scotland are grown as part of an agricultural rotation. This practice is likely to be favoured by organic growers. Crops such as carrot or swede can be included at a suitable point in the rotation, but they only form a small part of the cropped area.
Scotland has advantages for the production of many organic vegetables, such as reduced incidences of many pests and slow maturity of many crops in the cool summers.
By choosing and exploiting crops which utilise these advantages, organic farmers in Scotland can benefit from introducing vegetable production.