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Better statistics essential to organic industry development

Date Published: 11/08/2011

As the Government releases the latest UK statistics on organic food and farming a leading sector body has criticised the delay in sharing key market data which it says is stifling business planning.

The outcry from Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G) comes as Defra released the 2010 figures for organic farming – in August 2011.

Traditionally the statistics on which the annual report is based are collated from organic control bodies as a snapshot as at the end of December each year and supplied to Defra by the end of the following January. This data is then analysed by National Statistics and released through Defra, but not until around eight months into the following year.

However, monthly reports are also required of the control bodies, which could be used to provide a rolling view of the sector, according to OF&G chief executive, Richard Jacobs, who has called for the release of industry data to be urgently improved.

He said: “Successful businesses know the value of timely and accurate statistics to inform their planning and allow swift responses to market changes. This is as true of a grain trader as a farmer trying to plan the shape of their business in coming months and years.

“This becomes incredibly hard to do if such key information as national organic herd and flock sizes and cereal or vegetable land areas is only made available when it’s eight months out of date. Apart from giving a year-to-year benchmark, this renders the data effectively useless as a planning tool. A farmer or food processor needs to see trends in order to react.

“In these days of connected databases and every person with a smartphone having more computing power in their pocket than NASA had to send men to the moon, it beggars belief that we have to wait months for the numbers to be crunched. We should be getting at least quarterly updates to show everyone where the demand and opportunities lie.”

All of the UK’s government-accredited organic control bodies are required to provide data on their licensees, including monthly figures on those entering and leaving the sector, with the annual report supplied as a snapshot of the figures on December 31 of each year.

Mr Jacobs added: “OF&G is fastidious about providing its figures to Defra before each deadline, and I’m sure all of the other organic control bodies are too, but we want to see better and quicker use made of the information. It will require the will on the part of Defra to make it happen and the equal co-operation of all control bodies, but it is hugely in the organic sector’s interest and we believe it desperately needs to happen, sooner rather than later.”

OF&G has vowed to take up the issue with Defra, including seeking clarification on why it currently takes so long for reports to be produced.

View the latest organic statistics report, published today (Adobe PDF file, will open in a new window)