Despite the rise in consumer demand for organic products and subsequent growth in organic land, industry representatives have voiced their concerns the UK sector ’lags behind’ its European counterparts.
Recent statistics from Defra revealed UK land farmed organically in 2019 increased by 2.4 per cent (now at 485,000 hectares) compared to 2018, with the amount of organic land used to grow cereals increasing by 7.2 per cent.
But Andrew Trump, managing director of Organic Arable, said he was ‘disappointed’ to see such a small amount of land coming into organic status compared to levels on the continent.
Mr Trump said: “The vast majority of organic feed, especially for the poultry sector, is sourced abroad from Russia, Black Sea and the Baltic states, which means the UK is missing out on improving its own biodiversity by delivering those environmental benefits elsewhere.
“With an estimated 20 per cent of organic grain feed sourced in the UK and the percentage of domestic sourcing decreasing, the UK is vulnerable to market shocks in the supply chain and is therefore strategically in a weaker position.
“There needs to be a stronger focus on UK feed sourcing. The market is keen for UK growers to grow organic feed wheat but as there is already a deficit, suppliers are not confident in UK supply, and a willingness to work together to address the issue must be adopted.”
It came as the EU set its target of 25 per cent organic land in Europe by 2030 through its ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy, encouraging the UK Government to match its ambition.
Clare McDermott, business development director for Soil Association Certification, said: “Converting to organic can be a big business decision that takes time to implement, but with high demand for UK organic in both the shops and on farm, there is confidence in the market.
“We need the UK Government to provide confidence that farming policy will also support them to grow more healthy, sustainable food.”
With Covid-19 impacting household budgets across the country, AHDB has labelled the financial effects of Covid-19 on organic sales ‘asymmetric’.
The levy board said consumers who bought organic produce were usually wealthier and during the pandemic would be more likely to stay in employment and work from home.
In the short term, it expected sales to be protected.
However, AHDB noted a dip in sales in the last recession in 2018-29 which did not recover until 2012.
An AHDB spokesperson said: "It is therefore reasonable to expect organic sales to suffer as we enter a recession, given their price premium which is typically around 30 per cent."