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The Haughley Experiment
was the first scientific comparative study of organic farming and conventional chemical-based farming, started in 1939 by Lady Eve Balfour
Lady Evelyn Barbara "Eve" Balfour was an English farmer, educator, organic farming pioneer, and a founding figure in the organic movement. She was one of the first women to study agriculture at an English university, graduating from the University of Reading.The daughter of the second Earl of...
and Alice Debenham, on two adjoining farms in Haughley Green
Haughley Green is a village in Suffolk, England, four miles from Stowmarket. It was the location of the Haughley Experiment, the first scientific study comparing organic farming and modern chemical-based farming....
Suffolk is a non-metropolitan county of historic origin in East Anglia, England. It has borders with Norfolk to the north, Cambridgeshire to the west and Essex to the south. The North Sea lies to the east...
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...
In the words of Lady Eve, from her address to the IFOAM conference in Switzerland, in 1977:
The Haughley Experiment was started in 1939 on my farm and taken over by the Soil Association
The Soil Association is a charity based in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1946, it has over 27,000 members today. Its activities include campaign work on issues including opposition to intensive farming, support for local purchasing and public education on nutrition; as well the certification of...
in 1947 which for the next 25 years directed and sponsored it. This pioneering experiment was the first ecologically designed agricultural research project, on a full farm scale. It was set up to fill a gap in the evidence on which the claims for the benefits of organic husbandry were based. It was decided that the only way to achieve this was to observe and study nutrition cycles, functioning as a whole, under contrasting methods of land use, but on the same soil and under the same management, the purpose being to assess what effect, if any, the different soil treatments had on the biological quality of the produce grown thereon, including its nutritive value as revealed through its animal consumers. This had never been done before.
Three side-by-side units of land were established, each large enough to operate a full farm rotation, so that the food-chains involved — soil–plant–animal and back to the soil — could be studied as they functioned through successive rotational cycles, involving many generations of plants and animals, in order that interdependences between soil, plant and animal, and also any cumulative effects could manifest.
In order that you may understand the significance of some of the results I cannot avoid a short summary of how these units were operated. One was a stockless arable farm which for the purpose of this talk I shall ignore — the other two were both ley farms (temporary pasture alternating with arable) operating the same rotation. Each carried a herd of dairy cows, a flock of poultry and a small flock of sheep. All livestock was fed exclusively on the produce of its own unit, replacements were home bred and cereal and pulse crops raised from home-grown seed. All wastes of crops and stock were returned only to its own unit. Only livestock products and surplus animals were sold off the farm. All crops were put through the animals. On one of these two comparable units supplementary chemical fertilizers were used, as well as herbicides, insecticides and fungicides when thought necessary. This unit was called the Mixed Section.
On the other unit, called the Organic Section, no chemicals were used. It was thus entirely dependent on its own biological fertility. As nearly as possible a closed cycle was maintained so that a minimum of unknown factors should be introduced into the food chain to confuse the issue.
You can see, I expect, why such an exploration into the unknown was left to the private enterprise of a charitable society with small resources. It was at total variance with the fragmentary techniques of orthodox agricultural research, which is based on randomised small plots — a technique quite incapable of throwing any light on biological interdependencies in a functioning whole. The establishment of the day even went so far as to declare that there was no case to investigate — they were particularly critical of the closed system on the organic section, yet most of the significant findings were the outcome of this, and would not have been revealed without it. I will attempt to summarise a few of the more important findings, concentrating on those that have special relevance for the subject matter of this conference.
In addition to carefully recorded field observations, an extensive range of sample analyses (soil and products) was carried out by the consultant bio-chemist, Dr. R.F. Milton. These included analyses for available plant nutrients in every field every month for a period of over 10 years."
In the 1980s, properties of the three sections were measured and showed differences in earthworm density, crop root depth, and soil properties