Review of the environmental and socio-economic barriers and benefits to organic agriculture in Scotland

Report of the research carried out by Harper Adams University, on behalf of the Scottish Government, into the environmental and socio-economic barriers and benefits to organic agriculture in Scotland.

6. Conclusions

The Rapid Evidence Assessment of the environmental and socio-economic barriers and benefits of organic agriculture in Scotland identified a variety of key themes and knowledge gaps in the literature relating to this topic: 

Within the parameters of the inclusion criteria, environmental studies were by far the most favoured theme (194 of 323 studies), particularly studies based around diversity of habitats and species. There were comparatively few studies (n=22) that considered the influence of external drivers for change, such as climate change. Socio economic studies were far less common than environmental studies, although those that were available considered a broad variety of topics such as economic, health, labour and price issues. 

The most common comparator described within studies was conventional (n=266), although the meaning of ‘conventional’ and the wide variations that this may encompass was not often discussed in the literature. 

There has been a general decline in the number of studies per year since 2013, suggesting that there has been a reduction in funding for organic research studies across the included countries in recent years.

There were only 21 research studies found that considered consumer attitude or behaviour, but the Scottish Organic Action Plan consultation ( Key issues) incorporated consultations of consumers, which highlighted price and availability as key barriers to organic consumption. 

The SWOT analysis and prioritisation of actions highlighted by the Scottish Organic Forum members suggested that most priority actions should be aimed at farmers, and these ideas were refined further in the stakeholder workshop. 

Some implications of this work are highlighted below: 

6.1. Implications for policy

To help address a decline in the number of relevant studies since 2013, and to facilitate a more detailed insight into the complexities of organic farming in Scotland, the Scottish Government could provide greater funding opportunities for organic farming research, particularly in socio-economic studies. 

Farmers were generally thought by members of the Scottish Organic Forum to be easier targets to address actions towards than consumers, although a lack of awareness by consumers of the benefits of organic farming could be an area of future focus. Biodiversity and other environmental factors associated with organic farming have been highly studied and may offer an area for promotion to farmers and consumers. 

The Scottish Organic Forum is a valuable resource when collating information and knowledge of current and existing programmes that may help address priorities for action. 

6.2. Implications for research 

The systematic map database provides a summary of the existing evidence, however further primary research is necessary to provide more detailed insights into the complexities of the drivers of and barriers to organic farming in Scotland. 

There is scope for further research into the the socio-economic aspects of Scottish Organic Farming, particularly relating to studies considering the health and employment implications of organic agriculture.

It would also be useful to carry out more studies into the potential implications of future regional and global change scenarios on organic decision-making.

In order to develop a more comprehensive understanding of organic farming in relation to other non-organic systems, it would be useful for future primary research to place a greater focus on the variants of organic and of non-organic, and consider more comparisons with named practices to benefit the environment i.e. integrated management, low-input and conservation tillage.

6.3. Implications for future synthesis 

More focused future evidence syntheses on some of the subtopics included in this work would provide greater detail and opportunities for critical appraisal, which was not viable within the scope of this review. 

It would also be useful to periodically add to the systematic map database as new relevant research is carried out. This would contribute to an evolving and up-to-date reference of literature relevant to environmental and socio-economic impacts to organic farming in Scotland.  



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