The contribution of organic farming to rural development: an exploration of the socio-economic linkages of organic and non-organic farms in England
Land Use Policy
Organic farming has experienced considerable growth in recent years. Proponents of organic farming point to the environmental and nutritional benefits of organic systems, although these are contested by some. More recently, it has been argued that organic farming can provide rural development benefits through enhanced employment and through closer connections with the local economy, reconnecting consumers with producers and stimulating positive economic multipliers. Against the background of claims made for the rural development potential of organic farming, this paper considers the generation and retention of income, purchasing patterns, and direct employment impacts of a large sample of organic and nonorganic farmers in England. The paper reveals some important distinctions between the characteristics of organic and non-organic farms and farmers. It is argued that most of these differences do not stem directly from differences in farming systems but, rather, reflect considerable differences in the people who operate organic farms as well as the distinctive business configurations they frequently adopt. In confirmation of previous findings, organic farms are shown to employ more people, but the data reveal fewdifferences between the local economic connections of organic and non-organic farms. In turn, this suggests that simply comparing organic and non-organic farm businesses is too blunt an approach. Instead, it is important to consider other factors such as the type of enterprises found on the farm and the marketing routes adopted by the business. It is argued that commentators need to adopt a more nuanced approach, recognising differences between farming systems, farm types, the configuration of farm businesses towards different marketing strategies and the inclinations of those who operate such businesses. This shifts the focus of the debate away fromsimplistic notions that equate organic production with local supply and assume a local economic benefit, towards a broader conception of the local agro-food economy in which some farms have strong local connections while others focus their efforts elsewhere and earn important export income for the local economy.
Vol. 26, Issue 3, pp. 723 - 735