Defra figures show organic land conversion is on the rise

The amount of UK farmland being converted to organic farming has seen a big increase in 2021 compared to the previous year, according to new figures from Defra.

The area of ​​agricultural land going through the two-year conversion period stood at 42,000 ha in 2021 compared to 31,300 ha in 2020.

See also: 5 Expert Tips for Field Farmers Going Organic

Annual statistics from Defra show that just over 506,000ha are farmed organically in the UK, representing 2.9% of the total cultivated area in the country.

This represents both area fully converted and area under conversion, and is above the 2020 figure of 489,000 ha.

Sophie Kirk, business development manager for the Soil Association, said growing numbers of farmers are converting to organic as nature-friendly farming appeals to consumers and provides resilience for their businesses.

“Our agricultural sector has faced many shocks over the past few years, but the opportunities for sustainable agriculture remain strong with growing consumer demand and government support for organic,” she said.

“It is clear that government and buyers are realizing the benefits that organic can bring to nature and the environment, and these latest figures show that with the right incentives, nature and climate friendly agriculture can grow rapidly.”

Other figures on organic land use in the UK

  • Area of ​​organic vegetables increasing from 8,700 ha in 2020 to 8,900 ha in 2021
  • Area of ​​organic cereals up from 39,000ha in 2020 to 43,200ha in 2021
  • The number of organic poultry has increased from 3.79 million birds in 2020 to 4.02 million in 2021
  • The Southwest continues to have the highest percentage of farmland organic, at 8.5%

The Soil Association has predicted the rise of organic farming will continue into 2022, after the government announced it would pay up to double previous rates to English farmers who convert to organic farming.

Biological conversion

Arable farmer Alex Fraser and his brother Rob completed the conversion of their 105ha farm in West Yorkshire to organic in the summer of 2021.

They grow spring beans and spring wheat in an intercropping system and apply the same approach to oats and vetch, as well as barley and oats.

Alex Fraser said: “We took over our family farm three years ago when the previous lease ended and immediately decided to convert it to organic.

“It has been a huge learning curve for us, but in the face of issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss and the burden of chronic disease, it was the perfect time to build a sustainable agricultural system from zero.

“We couldn’t really imagine agriculture any other way; it was just the right thing to do.

Fraser said organic seemed the most financially viable option, given soaring input costs.