Organic Food & Farming
The organic movement began as a reaction to the scenes in the 1950s of land being cleared by large machines and harmful chemicals to make the way for large-scale food production and the general industrialisation of the farming process. By the 1990s the government had passed legislation for the certification of organic farms and products, and now the sales of organic products and the number of organic farms and producers are booming in the UK. There is now a massive mount of organic products available in the supermarkets and farmer's markets and half of all baby food now sold is organic. Supermarkets are expanding their organic ranges, but more and more of us are now going straight to the farm to buy our meat, fruit and vegetables.
Organic farming is a form of agriculture which avoids the use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and antibiotics in the production of produce, meat and poultry. Here in the UK, the Soil Association is responsible for setting the guideline for this kind of farming and for issuing the organic certification which allows us as consumers to know for sure that what we are buying is indeed organic. Farmers rely on principles such as not growing the same crop on the same land two years in a row, cultivating the soil with compost and green manures, and controlling weeds and pests in a way that doesn't harm wildlife and destroy ecosystems that benefit the soil. Organic horticulture follows exactly the same principles but often on a smaller scale.
As a result of the growing awareness and consumption of organic goods, there are knock-on effects on other areas. Water conservation is becoming more and more important as our climate changes and organic farmers and gardeners are often advocates for this practice. The other issue is food miles and local food. Very recently, the Soil Association have said that they may not certify food flown thousands of miles to our supermarket shelves as organic, because of the carbon emissions associated with flying, and they are also promoting local food in the fight against climate change.
This will always be an emotive issue, but the industry is growing at a very fast rate and as it does there will be more and more opportunities to be a part of an industry that promotes good health and environmental awareness.
Example areas of study
There are a handful of courses that will teach you the principles and techniques of organic farming, horticulture and food production. However, the modules vary from course to course and institution to institution. The list below will give you an idea of the modules available for study, but for a definitive list it is best to check with the institutions that you wish to apply to.
- Plant science
- Organic soil science and management
- Crop science and production
- Farm mechanisation
- Agricultural development
- Organic horticulture
- Organic food production
- Markets for organic produce
- Rural enterprise diversification
- Plant propagation
- Plants and design
- Organic pests and diseases management
- Organic gardening management
- The organics business
- Plant protection
- Nursery production
- Plants and their uses
- Biomolecular nutrition
- Sensory properties of food
- Organic livestock health and management
- Woodland management
- Farm business management
- Animal productions
- Environmental science
- Food process operations
- Food toxicology
- Organic food marketing
- Organic food specifications
Some career possibilities
Those with qualifications in organic farming, food production or horticulture can pursue a career in areas such as researching for farms, government or environmental agencies, consulting for agricultural or horticultural industries, technical consulting for commercial companies, estate management, farm management or teaching and lecturing.
What do I need to get on a course?
The grades and qualifications that you will need to get on a course in this area vary between institutions so it is important to check with them as to what you need to get on a course. The list below will give you an idea of the qualifications that you may need:
- UCAS Tariff: 80-260 points possibly including chemistry and/or biology
- A-levels: C-BCC usually including a science subject
- SQA Highers: ABBB usually including a science subject
- Irish Leaving Certificates: BBBBC, usually including a science subject
- Foundation Degree: usually in a relevant science subject
- International Baccalaureate: 28 points, usually including a science subject
- HND: in a relevant subject
- NVQ: Level 3 in a relevant subject
For your application or interview, the following may be useful:
- Work Experience in a relevant agricultural area would be useful
- Further information on anything organic is available at The Soil Association
To find out more about the typical subjects you will study, potential career paths and further information useful for your application log-on to Course Discover at www.coursediscoveronline.co.uk*
*NB: Your school or college will need a subscription to Course Discover in order for you to gain access, for further information go to: www.coursediscover.co.uk