The Journal of Agricultural Science

Review Article

Research in organic production systems – past, present and future

C. A. WATSONa1 c1, R. L. WALKERa1 and E. A. STOCKDALEa2

a1 SAC, Craibstone Estate, Aberdeen AB21 9YA, UK

a2 School of Agriculture Food and Rural Development, Newcastle University, King George VI Building, Newcastle-upon-Tyne NE1 7RU, UK


A large body of published research now exists on economic, social, technical and policy related aspects of organic production. The dramatic increase in published research over the last 20 years reflects not only the existence of policy support for organic farming in some countries but also the availability of government funding for research on organic farming. This has resulted in a broadening out of organic research from privately funded, specifically organic research organizations, into universities and mainstream research institutes. In parallel, publication of research results from organic farming has increasingly appeared in refereed literature in addition to literature sources more available to farmers and advisors. Research scientists from Europe, North America and Australasia have all made important contributions to the peer-reviewed literature. The literature is dominated by comparisons of organic and other forms of agriculture, although in many cases these comparisons are not fully valid. Research directed specifically at organic systems is often much more valuable in developing improved production systems than comparative research. Research on organic farming embodies both holistic and reductionist research approaches. Trans-disciplinary research also has an important role to play in understanding the complexities of the ecological approach to agriculture typified by organic farming. Working within the principles and standards of organic agriculture will mean that some research will always be specific to organic production systems. However, in future an increased transfer of knowledge from organic to conventional agriculture and vice versa is envisaged.

(Received June 28 2007)

(Online publication September 18 2007)


c1 To whom all correspondence should be addressed. Email: