A growing number of farmers are converting to organic as nature-friendly farming increasingly meets consumer demand and offers resilience, according to Soil Association Certification.
Data released by Defra today (Thursday 12 May) has revealed that land going through the two-year conversion period to organic rose by 34% in 2021, compared to the previous year. UK organic land also rose by 3.6% last year, following a rise of 0.8% in 2020.
Sophie Kirk, Business Development Manager for Soil Association Certification, said: “It is encouraging to see that the latest statistics show confidence in organic farming is on the rise in the UK. Our farming sector has dealt with many shocks over the last few years but opportunities for sustainable farming remain strong with rising consumer demand and government support for organic.
“It is clear both government and shoppers are waking up to the benefits organic can deliver for nature and the environment, and these latest figures show that, with the right incentives, nature and climate friendly farming can grow rapidly.”
The rise in organic farming last year is expected to continue in 2022 after the government announced earlier this year that they would pay up to double the previous rates to farmers in England who convert to organic.
All payments for organic farming are rising by between 50 and 500% for those entering a new scheme with Countryside Stewardship, which is open for applications until July.
A new organic enterprise
Arable farmer Alex Fraser (pictured right) and his brother Rob (pictured left) completed conversion to organic on their 260 acre farm in West Yorkshire last summer. They are growing spring beans and spring wheat in an intercropping system, and applying the same approach to oats and vetch, as well as growing barley and oats.
He said: “We took our family farm back in hand three years ago when the previous tenancy came to an end and straight away decided to put it into organic conversion. It has been a massive learning curve for us but when faced with issues such as climate change, biodiversity losses and the burden of chronic health conditions, it was the perfect time to build a sustainable farming system from scratch. We couldn’t really imagine farming in any other way; it just felt like the right thing to do.
“Not everything we’ve tried has worked. We’re learning as we go along and being dynamic and flexible in our approach means we can make the most of every situation.
“We’ve had the support from Countryside Stewardship and we’ve been getting loads of advice from other farmers in the organic farming community to encourage us to try things like intercropping to provide fertility and control weeds.
“If you look at the huge input costs that keep going up and you also look at all the benefits organic can offer, to me it seems the most viable option both financially and for supporting biodiversity and the climate.”
UK farming must rise to the challenge
The latest land stats also follow the UK organic market* breaking the £3 billion mark for the first time ever in 2021 – growing by 23% from 2019 to 2021, and significantly out-performing non-organic sales.
Kirk added: “Currently more ingredients and products are imported to support the increased demand for organic food. We need robust UK supply chains to support more organic production at home, particularly as our research shows consumers want to buy British.
“The long-term goals that government has set out for agriculture, with a new focus on protecting soils, wildlife and the environment, are in harmony with the principles of organic farming. Alongside continued growth in the organic market, this should give any farmer greater confidence to switch to or maintain organic farming practices, despite the short-term uncertainty facing every farm.”