Brothers turned the family arable farm organic as new figures show confidence in the sector is growing

Statistics released by Defra have shown an increased confidence in organic farming, according to the Soil Association Certification.

Alex and Rob have converted the family’s West Yorkshire arable farm to organic
Alex and Rob have converted the family’s West Yorkshire arable farm to organic

The figures released this week show that land going through the two-year conversion period to organic rose by 34 per cent in 2021, compared to the previous year with UK organic land rising by 3.6 per cent an increase on 2020 which saw a rise of 0.8 per cent.

Sophie Kirk, business development manager at 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.

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“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.”

Ms Kirk said last year’s rise in organic farming 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 per cent for those entering a new scheme with Countryside Stewardship, which is open for applications until July.

West Yorkshire arable farmers Alex Fraser and his brother Rob completed conversion to organic on their 260-acre farm 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.

“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,” said Alex Fraser.

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.”

But, Mr Fraser said, not everything they had 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.

“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.”

The latest Soil Association Certification Organic Market Report said the UK organic market broke the £3bn mark for the first time in 2021 and “significantly” outperformed non-organic sales.

And now, Ms Kirk said, was the time to put “robust” UK supply chains in place.

“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.”