New standards for growing organic crops in greenhouses and polytunnels are being proposed, following feedback from an open public consultation.
Changes put forward include a recommendation to progress toward renewable sources of energy, a requirement to record energy used in heating and standards addressing key issues around fertility, crop rotation, soil, and water use.
Stakeholders have until Wednesday 6th April to comment on the proposed standards before they are finalised.
The proposals include:
· Energy – If fossil fuel is used to heat protected cropping structures using more than 100kWh per metre per year for heating, an energy plan should be drawn up outlining how progress will be made towards renewable energy or combined heat and power over the next five years.
· Crop rotations – producers who do not rotate their crops would have to demonstrate they have a robust plan for delivering soil and crop health and dealing with potential issues such as pest control.
· Fertility – a fertility management plan must be produced which demonstrates that the system maximises the efficient use of nutrients, builds soil health and fertility, and maximises sustainability of fertility inputs.
The plan must also outline options for movement towards more sustainable fertility sources over time such as on-site composting and local suppliers.
Kathleen Hewlett, Soil Association standards coordinator, said:
“Growing crops in a glasshouse or polytunnel helps to increase productivity and extend the UK growing season.
“But if these ‘protected cropping’ systems are to make a contribution to the resilience of our food supply it is important to ensure that they are managed as sustainably as possible.”
A number of UK organic growers produce crops under cover ranging from small individual polytunnels up to large specialised heated glasshouses.
However, current organic standards applied in the UK and in Europe were designed primarily for growing outside and are not always suitable for the very different growing environment within a protected structure.