New Defra data shows growth in organic farming as consumer demand continues to rise

The Department for Environmental Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has released the organic farming statistics for the UK in 2019, which shows that the percentage of UK land farmed organically has risen by 2.4% compared to 2018.

485,000 hectares is now farmed organically in the UK. Permanent pasture accounts for the biggest share of the organic area (63%) followed by temporary pasture (20%) and cereals (8%)

The increase has been driven by the rise in fully organic land which has increased by 3.6% compared to 2018, which has more than offset the decrease in the area of in-conversion land, which fell by 15% – the first decrease since 2014.

Before an area can be considered as fully organic, it must undergo a conversion process. The area in-conversion expressed as a percentage of the total organic area can give an indication of the potential growth in the organic sector, meaning 2020 is likely to see a drop in growth of land being farmed organically.

Clare McDermott, business development director for Soil Association Certification, welcomed the news as sale of organic products are in their eighth year of growth.

Ms McDermott said: “Converting to organic can be a big business decision that takes time to implement, but with high demand for UK organic in both the shops and on farm, there is confidence in the market. What we need now is for UK government to provide confidence that farming policy will also support them to grow more healthy, sustainable food.

“The Agriculture Bill and Environmental Land Management Scheme must support farmers to deliver environmental public goods across the whole farm by transitioning to agroecological farming practices, like organic, that look after air, water and soil quality.”

Roger Kerr, chief executive of OF&G, the largest certifier of UK organic land, also welcomed the news that more farmers are responding to the increased market demand for organic produce in the face of uncertainty.

He said: “It’s apparent from the new 2019 organic farming data from Defra that organic land area has increased by 2.3%. And while overall organic operator numbers have declined by 1%, this is primarily due to processor numbers falling. Farmer and grower numbers have actually increased by 0.7%. In the face of future uncertainty with farm support and trade agreements, this is a positive development, especially with consumer demand for organic rising.

“The market for organic food continues to grow globally and in the UK. Sales of organic food during the pandemic has significantly increased along with people’s interest in growing organic food at home, evident by sales of organic seeds growing by 400%.”

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