Consumer demand helps spark increase in organic land conversion

Produce Business report

As shoppers are changing their habits toward embracing more organic food, so too are farmers across the UK, according to the latest Organic Statistics for 2020 report from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

There has been a more than 11% increase in the conversion of land to become certified organic – and that increase has been seen for all but one of the past seven years, according the Soil Association Certification, which certifies more than 70% of all organic products sold in the UK.

“We welcome these UK stats from DEFRA which demonstrate positive growth and confidence in the organic sector. The volume of land currently  under conversion to organic with Soil Association Certification has grown even more rapidly – showing a 24% increase in the year to March 2021,” Soil Association Certification Senior Business Development Manager Sophie Kirk said. “The incentive for farmers to convert to organic is a direct response to: the significant and sustained growth in demand for organic produce through the pandemic; the availability of Government support for organic across some parts of the UK; the technological improvements in organics; and the growing interest amongst consumers and farmers for farming to provide more benefits for the environment and the climate.”

The lean toward organic arable farming, which rose 7% last year, isn’t just unique to the UK. Across Europe, farms are making the switch, pushed by the EU’s agricultural goal to be 25% organic by 2030.

Valued at nearly £2.8 billion, the organic market in the UK saw record growth in 2020 (Soil Association Organic Market Report ) as more people looked to homegrown sustainable food. Carrots are one of the fresh items that seen soaring demand as shoppers look to high-quality produce for their plates. According to the Soil Association’s Organic Farming and Growing – Does it Stack Up? Report (April 2021), organic cropping farms generate five times the revenue per hectare from agri-environment schemes and 50% more revenue from diversification.

“We’re in the process of converting our farm to organic in a bid to make environmental improvements and control blackgrass within our arable rotation,” said Andrew Bullock manager at Sezincote Farm, a 730 hectare mixed arable farm certified with Soil Association Certification that began its conversion in 2019. “The biggest positive for us in converting to organics is the reduction in risk. Previously we were spending more money up front without knowing where arable prices would be. With organic the risks and input costs are less than non-organic farming, and farm profit is largely equal. I hope this will increase further once we are fully converted, while we will also deliver improvements to the environment, biodiversity and soil health.”

According to the Soil Association Certification, organic production is funded through agri-environment schemes in England and Scotland. It is hoping the UK government can provide additional incentives for organic farming practices by encouraging farmers to “deliver public goods such as clean water and air, enhanced biodiversity and reduced flooding through enhanced support for organic farming systems and practices.”



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