Conventional crop production is often associated with high utilisation of pesticides and artificial fertilisers. These chemicals are applied to the crop to ensure that optimal yields are achieved on the available land without losses due to pests, disease, or weed competition, and without limitation of nutrients. Some chemicals can also reduce the risk of food contaminants such as mycotoxins and pests. However, pesticides and fertilisers are associated with negative impacts on biodiversity, water quality and, in some cases, human health. Therefore, it is important that the usage of these chemicals is managed to minimise the negative impacts on the environment and health, whilst optimising crop production and quality.
Reducing or eliminating artificial chemicals from production systems may seem to be a good idea environmentally, but in the absence of these chemicals, yields may decline and there would be a greater risk of crop failure in years of high pest or disease pressure. In order to counter yield reduction, it would be necessary to cultivate greater areas of land. Therefore, if we are to meet the food requirements of an increasing human population, artificial chemicals have a role to play in supporting efficient crop production. Use of nitrogen fertilisers is widespread in the crop sector to enhance yield, although in mixed farming situations it is possible to utilise organic manures as a partial replacement for artificial fertilisers.
In terms of livestock, there are extensive low input production systems such as grass-fed cattle and sheep. These systems rely mostly on grazing pasture (either naturally occurring or improved, to provide most of the livestock’s nutritional requirements). Over winter, when stock are housed to protect the grassland from damage and to provide them with shelter, they are fed conserved forage such as grass silage. These extensive grass-fed systems usually mean that the animals take longer to reach maturity and therefore consume more feed and water, produce more manure, and emit more methane than intensively produce animals. However, they are fed on a diet that requires fewer inputs than some of the more intensively fed stock, can aid in the maintenance of biodiverse grasslands and can be produced in locations (such as the UK uplands) where other forms of food production are almost impossible.
Products bearing the LEAF marque are from farms that are certified users of a whole farm approach to sustainable food and farming. These products are committed to low input, energy efficiency, water management and nature conservation.