'Organic farming on the up'

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More and more UK growers are changing practices year-on-year, say experts

MANY UK growers are changing their practices and taking the organic route year-on-year, according to certification and campaign groups.

DATA recently released by Defra has revealed that UK land going through the two-year conversion period to organic rose by 34% in 2021, compared to the previous year. 

UK organic land also rose by 3.6% last year, following a rise of 0.8% in 2020.

Business Development Manager for Soil Association Certification, Sophie Kirk, has welcomed the latest revelation. The Soil Association is a membership charity campaigning for planet-friendly food and farming.

Sophie said: “It is encouraging to see that the latest statistics show confidence in organic farming is on the rise in the UK. Our farming sector has dealt with many shocks over the last few years but opportunities for sustainable farming remain strong with rising consumer demand and government support for organic.

“It is clear both government and shoppers are waking up to the benefits organic can deliver for nature and the environment, and these latest figures show that, with the right incentives, nature and climate friendly farming can grow rapidly.”

The rise in organic farming last year is expected to continue in 2022 after the government announced earlier this year that it would pay up to double the previous rates to farmers in England who convert to organic.

All payments for organic farming are rising by between 50 and 500% for those who entered a new scheme with Countryside Stewardship, which closed for applications at the end of June.

The latest land statistics also follow the UK organic market breaking the £3 billion mark for the first time ever in 2021, growing by 23% from 2019 to 2021, and out-performing non-organic sales.

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OF&G (Organic Farmers & Growers) CEO Roger Kerr said he was not surprised at the statistics.

“There is strong appetite from farmers to shift to more agroecological practices and the opportunity for organic and the premium gained for certified produce is clearly attractive.”

But he notes that the 34% figure quoted by Defra, is from a relatively low area of in-conversion land. “We must remember that the organically farmed area in the UK is still less that 3%, compared to the EU at over 9%. All the same, it’s incredibly positive given the challenges of the last few years” he says.

He adds that he is quietly confident for the future uplift in the organically farmed area. “The latest figures from Defra don’t consider the big economic shocks of the past year. Add to that, the fact that farming is in a period of unprecedented change.

“The upshot is that we are seeing a bigger interest than ever in ‘de-risking’ farming businesses.

“The Ukraine conflict has illustrated the volatility of input cost and reducing or removing artificial inputs entirely is being seriously considered by a lot of farmers.”

Roger also points to a growing demand for organic produce. “Consumer spending on organic is up, hitting around £3 billion for the first time.

“And while we have to be mindful of the cost-of-living crisis, core organic consumers are proven to be resilient and with an increasing focus on the environment, market opportunities are opening up,” he says.

“The EU has set a goal for 25% of the land area to be organic by 2030. That will be accompanied by heavy investment in promoting the sector and represents a strong near-market opportunity for UK growers.”

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