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Number of organically farmed animals rises
Published:  01 June, 2017

Figures have indicated that the number of animals farmed organically in the UK increased on the year in 2016.

Latest numbers from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) show that the number of pigs organically reared in the UK rose by 5% in 2016. At 31,500 head, this is the highest it has been since 2012. The amount of poultry farmed organically recorded a 10% increase on the year to 2,800,000 head, with cattle experiencing a more modest growth of 2%, representing 296,000 animals. Sheep remained stable.

However, the amount of fully organic land in the UK declined for the eigth consecutive year in 2016, taking the span to under 500,000 hectares. This is the lowest acreage in at least 14 years. The Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) Pork highlighted that land in conversion to organic did show some upturn. This was mainly driven by a rise in the use of temporary pasture.

Liz Bowles, head of farming at the Soil Association, said that there are concerns that the demand for organic produce and the amount of organic land is out of balance. “As the market for organic food is growing very strongly in the UK, we are worried about the continuing drop in organic farmland,” she said. “While it is positive to see an increase in the organic land in conversion, it is clear (from the increase in organic poultry and cattle numbers) that existing organic farmers are increasing production from existing organic land to try and meet growing demand.”

Bowles said that wilst there is an increase in applications from processors and producers that are wanting to convert to organic, there is a delay in the time applications are made and when the conversion period begins. “What is needed is confidence in the organic market, which can be met by long-term government support,” she explaind.

“Converting to organic farming is a big step forward for individual farmers, and these figures underline the importance of long-term government support for organic farming betyong Brexit, to give some certainty and security to farmers thinking of converting.

“We are calling on the next government to offer stronger support for organic farming, by building on the current system and increasing the amount of land farmed using organic methods, which can help deliver environment, animal welfare and public benefits. This should include maintaining, improving and expanding the organic conversion and maintenance payments, ensuring agricultural colleges offer more courses in organic and agroecological farming practices alongside new organic apprenticeships, and maintaining the legal basis for organic standards –ensuring ongoing alignment with the EU organic regulation.”