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New figures show significant slowdown in organic area loss

Date Published: 05/06/2014

The decline in organic land area in the UK has slowed significantly in comparison to drop-offs seen in the last four years.

Steven Jacobs, OF&G research and development officer
Steven Jacobs, OF&G research and development officer

That’s the key fact to be found in the latest Organic Statistics released today by Defra and it has been welcomed by leading control body, Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G).

While the sector has still seen an overall reduction in total organic land and in-conversion land, the fall for fully-certified organic hectarage in the UK was only 3.9 per cent, which compares very well to 7.38 per cent and 7.26 for the two preceding years.

The headline figures in the report may appear more concerning for the pipeline of in-conversion land, which was down 24 per cent for the UK as a whole (comparing with 12.71 and 24.54 per cent for the two years prior) but there are a number of factors that provide an explanation for this and which temper any potential alarm for the sector.

The latest numbers are compiled based on a snapshot taken from the data supplied by organic control bodies at the very end of 2013 and are the most up-to-date aggregation of such information that is currently available. OF&G has called in the past for a move to more timely reporting, while acknowledging the obstacles that exist to achieving this.

Steven Jacobs, OF&G research and development officer, said: “These are the latest figures available for the sector as a whole in the UK and despite the headline numbers being negatives, we can see the positives in them! As the economy is re-awakening and the organic market along with it, stemming the loss of producers is crucial and we’d hope to see that turn around in the next couple of years. In the meantime, it does play into the hands of those who remained steadfast with organics and who will see demand increase for their produce.

“While the in-conversion numbers are not great, that’s not a surprise because of factors we’re well aware of in the sector – and not forgetting the fact that the figure drops as land actually becomes organic. Not having so much conversion in the pipeline is partly a result of the news that there would be a hiatus in farm payments as the system changed, which is something we uncovered and flagged-up to the industry last year. That’s a curve that we would expect to at least flatten itself out as the recovery continues this year and next.”

Looking more deeply at the detailed numbers, they contain decreases in production which are to be expected in line with the reduced hectarage, though organic poultry has seen a 1.2 per cent increase and, with eggs and poultry as a keen indicator of shopper preferences, this could be a precursor to improvements in demand in other sectors.

Mr Jacobs added: “The Soil Association’s Market Report and other numbers we’ve seen all point towards a return to growth in sales of organic produce and that means a distinct opportunity for producers who are ready and able to embrace it. We particularly see growing demand for organic cereals in coming years and if greater transparency can be achieved in the amounts of crops destined for human consumption and those destined for animal feed, farmers will be able to grow to specific markets in the face of increased demand. We’re very positive about the future for organic farming now that our economy is on the mend.”

The full report is available to download for free from the Defra website.

See also
Farmers, specialists, academics and policy makers from across the organic sector will be coming together on July 1 for National Organic Cereals. Find out more here…