LISTENING to The Archers, one could be forgiven for believing that organic farming is the mainstay of British agriculture and any farmer daring to use ‘artificial’ modern crop foods or medicines is part of an obsolete minority whose methods are producing unsafe food and burning up the planet.

Fact or fiction?

According to the latest Defra statistics, the registered organic area in the UK is 2.9 per cent of the total farmed acreage and, as yields are considerably lower, actual food produced organically is probably well under two per cent, which some might describe as almost irrelevant.

Statistics for the East of England would probably be even more remarkable as most of Britain’s organic production is in the West Country, where farmyard manure is available from the larger cattle population.

Why this huge disparity in public perception and true fact?

The Soil Association is the leading organisation for the certification of organic food and its main aim is wholly laudable and surely supported by us all - “to secure healthy, humane and sustainable food production for the benefit of everybody”.

However, any idea of turning the clock back to the times when there were no tractors burning fossil fuels, enough willing workers to be bent double hoeing all day and no need to treat an ill animal with any medicine are romantic. Is it practical for today’s much larger world population, though?

There are consequences of a dogmatic policy which permits the use of no artificial foods or medicines for plants or animals and a requirement to abide by the rules for three years before a farm gains organic status.

Even most of organic farming’s main supporters admit that their farmers yield averages are only around 60 per cent of conventional modern farming.

By any yardstick, this makes the word “sustainable” rather strange to understand.

If the whole world is going organic, we will need to use 40 per cent more land area for farming. Is that really what we want?

Europe claims to have seven per cent of its land area in organic production.

I have seen areas in Europe where huge areas of wildlife habitat have had the topsoil scraped off and then, after the removal of any rocks and scrub, the site is laser levelled.

The topsoil is put back and intensive farming begins. It’s all organic because it is virgin land. It’s fact, not perception.

One suspects there may be other areas in the world where land is cleared for farming and the resultant production is deemed “organic”.

Are we happy to import all this stuff because we can’t create enough land here?

I admire the aims of the organic movement and have no doubt that the protagonists can benefit commercial farming, but let’s see both sides of this debate.

There is one other aim of The Soil Association I find even more disturbing.

They wish to advance the education of the public which presumably means persuading us all to eat organic food.

Before you blindly follow that lead I suggest you weigh up all the implications on our fragile world.

Good intentions do not always result in happy endings.