Written Evidence submitted by Organic Farmers & Growers CIC(OF&G) (SH0084)

Organic Farmers & Growers CIC (OF&G) is the largest certifier of organic land in the United Kingdom.

Founded forty years ago as a marketing cooperative for organic farmers OF&G went on to become the first body to receive government approval for an organic inspection and certification scheme in the UK.

This document is our response to the UK governments Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Inquiry into Soil Health -


We consent to this response being made public.

As an Organic Control Body our role is to ensure that the Organic standards[1] are carried out on organic farms and in food businesses across the UK, and to offer support and guidance for businesses who are making the switch to organic.

We certify the complete food supply chain from primary production, feed and seed to processed product including storage, warehousing, distribution and retail.

From our offices just outside Shrewsbury in Shropshire, we provide services to organic businesses across Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

It is now widely acknowledged that soil health is being negatively impacted by modern agriculture where monocultural practices, supported by an array of artificial inputs, are repeated annually over many years.

The use of synthetic compounds such as synthetic fertilisers, chemical fungicides, pesticides and herbicides, and in many non-organic arable systems the use of the herbicide glyphosate as a crop desiccant, have over time, led to a massive decline in soil health and a frightening loss of biological diversity.

Globally research is showing the dramatic fall in the number of invertebrates and microorganisms that our ecosystems rely on.

This in turn, and in combination with habitat loss, is responsible for the very worrying drop in bird numbers and insect species we have been seeing for decades and now science is able to show us where the root causes lie.

Farming practices, borne after the second world war when there was a clear need to replenish food stocks after the military devastation of huge areas of land around the world has now presented us with a hugely damaging and an extremely grave impact on our ability to sustain food production, even in our own country.

The science is clear that soils are not simply a medium for producing food. Soil health also involves and relies on good structure and where food systems are concerned this means we must employ only carefully planned and systemically structured land management.

Healthy soils are therefore key to biodiversity and food security. They also play a fundamental role in fighting climate change. By fostering the transition to organic agriculture, we are contributing to healing our soil worldwide by ending their chemicall-induced depletion and strengthening their potential as carbon-consuming sinks.

Soils are a non-renewable resource on which 95% of our food supply depends. Short-sighted chemical fertiliser applications in industrial farming are depleting soils at an alarming rate.

Pesticide residues from agricultural intensification are also causing increasing soil contamination which is also an issue of increasing concern because of their toxicity to non-target species.

Unsustainable agricultural practices are also a major cause of desertification, a global problem directly affecting over 250 million people and a third of the earths land surface. It is especially concentrated in developing countries, and leads to food insecurity, climate change, poverty, and human displacement.

Organic farming involves a suite of practices that succeed because they work in synergistic harmony with each other and with the landscape they are based within.

Our recommendations

Using organic farms as models of best practice government is able to role out a dedicated support scheme that rewards organic farmers for mentoring their non-organic counterparts and duding them on how to move away from soil destructive practices and instead to empower them to manage their land with a carefully managed and proven whole system design.

Our Certification Officers have a continuous dialogue with organic farmers across the UK every working day. Using the organic regulatory framework as a template government is able to build greater flexibility with regulation. This is how we operate under the organic regulation by employing staff who have great experience and are highly trained.

Assess compliance to enable outcomes.
Organic food is organic because the organic regulation requires that we certify along the entire supply chain. In effect this means that all stakeholders are working together to achieve organic status. In a similar way government is able to encourage best practice when employed in a whole design system approach that would together achieve beneficial outcomes.

Using soil mapping, satellite imagery, radar where appropriate and physical testing, government can use agencies such as Organic Control Bodies working in conjunction with government departments including DEFRA and the RPA, and also with other NGOs, to build a database of knowledge that would then inform how successful a suite of best practices is able be tailored according to location, soil type and topography.

Good soil management is a shared responsibility across the food system. It is in all our interests to ensure compliance to best practice wherever and whenever possible. Government can help to facilitate greater learning and increased knowledge exchange by supporting long term activity of education and training. OF&G organic farmers are very happy to share their knowledge.

We know our farmers, many of whom have been under OF&G organic licence for decades, and they are in the best possible place to help share good knowledge with farmers across the UK.

All of the elements of a healthy landscape are intrinsic to the sustainable capacity of a farm to produce food. It is crucially important for policymakers to fully comprehend and to appreciate that organic farming is based on a successful whole system approach that employs a suite of practices exercised and administered within a regulatory framework maintaining a very high degree of supply chain integrity by the practice of close scrutiny and continuous guidance.

Policy support for organic production helps support this vitally important ecosystem services that go alongside food production and thereby also enables a greater protection for biodiversity, soil health and climate adaptation.

Organic food production is proven to be more resilient in the face extreme weather events such as droughts and floods than non-organic monoculture production systems that rely on synthetic inputs and stable climates.

Organic agriculture sustains healthy soils by:

      Improving soil fertility by maintaining and building a fertile living soil through the application of organic matter inputs in the form of green manures, compost and farmyard manure and adopting cover crops and crop rotations and intercropping and by implementing low soil disturbance tillage.

      Integrating crops and animals, reducing overgrazing and facilitating nutrient recycling on the farm.

      Improving water infiltration and retention capacity through high levels of organic matter and permanent soil cover, such as cover crops or mulch, which substantially reduce the amount of water needed for irrigation.

Global Soil Partnership

OF&G is a member of IFOAM Organics International which is a membership-based organisation working to bring true sustainability to agriculture across the globe.

IFOAM Organics International is a member of the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) which is a mechanism to develop a strong interactive partnership and enhanced collaboration and synergy of efforts between all stakeholders. From land users through to policy makers, one of the key objectives of the GSP is to improve the governance and promote sustainable management of soils.

4 per 1000 Initiative

IFOAM - Organics International is a consortium member of the 4 per 1000 Initiative, aiming at demonstrating that agriculture, and in particular agricultural soils can play a crucial role where food security and climate change are concerned. The ambition of the initiative is to encourage stakeholders to transition towards a productive, highly resilient agriculture, based on the appropriate management of lands and soils, creating jobs and incomes, hence ensuring sustainable development.

References -








February 2023


[1] Organic standards; Retained Regulation (EC) No. 834/2007, (EC) No. 889/2008, (EC) No. 1235/2008 and Organic Products Regulation 2009.