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UK Organic Farmland in conversion increases with growing organic market

Organic Farmland in conversion increases

Latest government figures on UK organic food production shows that organic farmland declined slightly, but more farms are converting to organic.

Defra’s organic farming statistics (published on Thursday 18 May) show that while the amount of organic land fell by 3.6% in 2016, the amount of UK farmland in organic conversion rose by more than 22%. In England, the picture was even stronger, with the data showing a 47.2% increase in land in conversion.  The statistics show that permanent pasture continues to account for the biggest share of the country’s organic area. The number of organic cattle increased on the previous year, while organic pig numbers rose by 5%. Organic poultry numbers have shown the largest increase, rising by 10% to just over 2.8m birds.

Liz Bowles, head of farming at Soil Association, said “While it is positive to see an increase in the organic land in conversion, it is clear (from the increase in organic poultry and cattle numbers) that existing organic farmers are increasing production from existing organic land to try and meet growing demand. As the market for organic food is growing very strongly in the UK (7.1 % in 2016), we are worried about the continuing drop in organic farmland.  While we are seeing increasing applications from processors and producers alike who want to convert to organic, there is a lag between the time applications are made and when the conversion period begins. What is needed is confidence in the organic market, which can be met by long-term government support. Converting to organic farming is a big step for individual farmers, and these figures underline the importance of long-term government support for organic farming beyond Brexit, to give some certainty and security to farmers thinking of converting”. 

In addition to working to grow the organic market, we are calling on the next government to offer stronger support for organic farming, by building on the current system and increasing the amount of land farmed using organic methods, which can help deliver environment, animal welfare and public benefits. This should include maintaining, improving and expanding the organic conversion and maintenance payments, ensuring agricultural colleges offer more courses in organic and agroecological farming practices alongside new organic apprenticeships, and maintaining the legal basis for organic standards –ensuring ongoing alignment with the EU organic regulation.