Food for Thought!
Mind the Yield Gap
Any strategy for improving the environmental performance of UK farming must confront one major problem: the yield gap between ecological agriculture and ‘conventional’ industrial agriculture. The yield for many organic crops is up to 35% lower than for chemically grown crops. Countryside Stewardship Schemes frequently require measures to be taken which explicitly lower stocking rates, or which could easily lead to lower yields, such as buffer strips around fields, delaying haymaking to allow flowers to seed, sowing grain crops in Spring etc. This could lead to ‘sustainable intensification of agriculture where reductions in yield resulting from a move towards more environmentally friendly farming are likely to trigger increased production elsewhere. A focus on Agro-ecological farming could invite more research towards addressing the ‘yield gap’ without increased production of pesticides, fertilizers and genetic engineering.
Only 33 % of UK farmland is currently under arable crop production. It is predominantly this land which has lost the most carbon and it is where soil erosion and biodiversity loss has been greatest. Integrated Agri-environmental objectives should target: improved soil fertility, structure and drainage: control of pernicious weeds such as blackgrass which are becoming herbicide-resistant; reduced fungal burdens; and improved pest/predator balance, thus reducing insecticide use which leads to increased insect biodiversity (Buglife).