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Organic farming area in the UK continues to fall

© Tim Scrivener

The organically farmed area in the UK declined by a further 2.1% year on year in 2023, according to Defra statistics

In 2023, the UK had 462,000ha of fully organic land, which means organic farming has fallen by more than 30% in the past 15 years.

Permanent pasture accounted for 62% of the organic farming area in 2023, followed by temporary pasture (18%) and cereals (10%).

Sixty per cent of the UK organic land was in England, 23% in Scotland, 15% in Wales and 1.4% in Northern Ireland.

There were a total of 5,230 organic operators in the UK and 3% of cattle were reared organically.

‘Mixed’ picture

Organic and nature-friendly farming lobby the Soil Association described the figures as “mixed”.

While Wales is falling behind in organic and nature-friendly farming, Scotland is “trailblazing”, it said. In Scotland, the area of fully organic land farmed increased from 92,500ha to 103,500ha (11.8%) last year.

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The Soil Association also understands that the Scottish government has seen a surge in applications for support for organic conversion so far in 2024, indicating that farmers are responding to the support on offer, backed up by ambitious targets.

By contrast, just 3% of all farmland in England is farmed under organic standards, while it has declined by 2% to 4.3% in Wales.

Sales of organic food and drink have doubled in the past 12 years and grew by nearly 5% in the past year, but the Soil Association says England and Wales are failing to meet this demand.

Alex Cullen, the Soil Association’s certification commercial director, said: “Defra’s latest organic land stats reveal that while Scotland is trailblazing in nature-friendly farming, broadly there is a missed opportunity for British farmers.

“We are seeing growth in organic sales, but this has largely been fuelled by imports, not home-grown produce – with growth flatlining in Welsh and English organic farmland.”

‘Shockingly bad’

Despite so much focus and commercial interest in more regenerative and nature-friendly agriculture, Science For Sustainable Agriculture said the figures for UK organic farming were “shockingly bad news”.

David Hill, a Norfolk arable farmer and registered organic processor, said organic producers need access to better tools and technologies.

With the UK government expected to look into the rules around the use of gene editing in organic farming, he urged the organic sector “to embrace these new breeding methods to avoid terminal decline”.

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Very Good..!

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