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Call for sector to remain upbeat in face of negative figures

Date Published: 14/06/2013

Organic food and farming is facing its latest reality check in the current economic climate with the release of annual figures for the sector.

Statisticians at the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) pull together all of the data for organic food and farming every 12 months.

Analysis released this week shows further falls across the board for the sector, including in numbers of farmers, food processors, livestock and land in production or conversion. It is the fifth year in a row in which the land area number has decreased.

However, those in organics are widely refusing to accede to the gloom and believe this annual snapshot signifies a sector that still boasts many strengths and is consolidating as the wider economy awaits a return to growth.

Leading UK certifier, Organic Farmers & Growers, has pointed out that organics is currently growing significantly in most parts of the world.

OF&G chief executive, Richard Jacobs, said: “At Organic Farmers & Growers we remain upbeat about the future of organic food and farming in the UK, in spite of the apparently downbeat story suggested by the latest statistics.

“We are still hearing very positive reports from the operators on the ground, particularly the ones who are innovating and being very driven with regard to processes, products and marketing. In the short term a reduction in operator numbers is good news for those who remain committed because they could benefit from scarcity, though that’s likely to push up prices to consumers or drive up the need to import, which would be a shame.

“Because organic production is not a tap that can be turned on and off – in most cases there is at least a two year conversion period – anyone who stays in the sector now could very well be reaping the rewards as the market continues to improve.”

However UK organics is acknowledged to have suffered from a swift reaction by major retailers in the face of the early stages of the credit crisis, in 2007 and 2008, when they took many organic lines off their shelves on the assumption that shoppers would cease demanding them. This proved to be wrong and many ranges have returned, but not before damage was done to suppliers.

“Any return to growth of the sector would be more predictable if we knew we could count on the kind of government support that is widely seen elsewhere around the world,” added Richard Jacobs.

“Our political leaders sending a signal of being supportive and upbeat for organic production would be hugely valuable, whereas at the moment, from a policy perspective, we could be forgiven for feeling like the unwanted stepchild of UK agriculture, rather than an innovating sector producing some premium products which also bring the welfare and environmental benefits of organic. For instance, French ministers are behind plans to double their country’s organic production area by 2017. Imagine that!”

Organic Farmers & Growers is keen to express its gratitude to the statistical team at Defra for working to produce the latest figures from 2012 with all possible haste, following previous concerns that the data was getting too old to be useful before it was made available.

Richard said: “We know that the Defra statisticians work hard to get this information to the industry as soon as they can in light of the current methods of reporting. We would hope that in future, with the co-operation of the control bodies, we could make this more than a once-a-year exercise and improve the efficiency of the process to help the Defra team, for the benefit of the whole sector. We’re certainly willing and able to play our part in that.

“It’s worth remembering also that these figures are a snapshot in time and they are complemented by other data which indicates an organic market that is showing signs of returning to growth. There are strong positives to be found, even if you would be hard pressed to find them in these particular figures!”

Click here to download the full Organic Statistics 2012 report [Adobe PDF document]