The number of organic producers in the UK grew last year, according to Defra data, despite a drop in organic processors and a fall in land growing organic produce.
The area of organic land fell by 8.4% to 474,000 hectares, reflecting a shift away from larger farms. The total amount of organic operators also fell, by 6% to 6,188. However, that figure reflected a fall in processors, with the number of organic producers growing by more than 2% last year to 3,544.
The increase reflected “opportunity and confidence in the sector”, suggested certification body Organic Farmers & Growers. Its own licensees had increased overall by 2.5% last year, the body said, with the growth driven by new entrants to organic production.
“Continued growth of consumer demand for high-welfare and environmentally friendly produce has seen organic sales increase steadily in the last seven years, which has in turn triggered an increase in organic farm conversions,” said OF&G CEO Roger Kerr.
“Organic farming also continues on its positive trajectory on a global scale, with organic land area and producer numbers at an all-time high. Organic land world-wide is growing by 20% annually, and producer numbers are increasing by 5% year-on-year, currently sitting at 2.9m,” he added.
Soil Association associate director for farming and land use Liz Bowles echoed his comments. However, she was “disappointed” to see the drop in certified organic land “when we know that there is such high demand for UK organic in the shops and on farm”.
She added: “Recent research has also shown that green farming practices, like organic, can feed the population healthily while radically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pesticides. What we need now is for the government to support farmers to end reliance on intensive methods and support greater numbers to transition to more sustainable farming practices like organic.”