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Green economy wales
14 May 2024

Welsh Farming ‘Falling Behind’ in Nature-Friendly and Organic Practices

Wales is falling behind in nature-friendly and organic farming practices while Scotland is ‘trailblazing”, says The Soil Association.

It says that new Defra organic farmland statistics expose missed opportunities in Wales, England, and Northern Ireland to capitalise on growing demand, with a third of shoppers saying that sustainability is a key factor for them.

But it says organic farming in Scotland has seen steady growth for six years, with fully organic land increasing by 11.8% in 2023.

It is calling for a “radical rethink” if organic is to reach its full potential and bring UK organic farming into the mainstream.

The Soil Association also understands that 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.

In Wales the amount of farmland farmed under organic standards has declined by 2% to 4.3%.

Soil Association Senior Farm Advisor Jerry Alford said:

“At a time when farmers reliant on chemical inputs are facing unprecedented costs and diminishing margins, switching to organic is a credible and resilient alternative which often comes with farmgate premiums that more closely reflect the cost of production.

“There is concern that Wales is falling even further behind and farmers lack clear support, despite organic ticking their sustainable farming objectives. Welsh Government must act fast to introduce the proposed support for organic farming in the Sustainable Farming Scheme.

“With 50% more wildlife on organic farms, we need to turbo charge growth through home grown produce and bring organic farming practices into the mainstream.

“While there are challenges in some organic farming sectors, there are real and immediate opportunities in others. Dairy, horticulture, and many cereals are in big demand and will ensure a secure future for farmers switching to organic.

“Big suppliers have proven that with the right focus organic can achieve credible market share. Yeo Valley have driven strong representation of organic in the dairy aisles while growers like RB Organic Ltd are growing organic carrots at scale with a significant share of total retail carrot sales in the UK.

“We now need to focus on developing some relatively quick wins like cereals, leeks, potatoes, mushrooms, cabbage, kale and apples where the UK is more than capable of meeting the demand for organic.”

Soil Association Certification Commercial Director Alex Cullen 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.

“Last year threw so many challenges at our farmers and organic was no exception to that. Nature-friendly food production has not been easy but the tide is starting to turn with both politicians and shoppers investing in this way of farming. We now want more farmers to join us and the farmers who are already working hard to scale up organic at pace. There are increasing opportunities to discover the financial resilience organic can bring to businesses – alongside benefits for the environment, nature, and health.

“We’ve seen a real buzz and interest in regenerative practices in farming. And as the most recognised and trusted form of regenerative farming with robust and legally enforced standards – organic is the natural choice.”

The Soil Association is urging all political parties to use organic to realise their environmental promises as they draw up their election manifestos by encouraging farmers to transition to organic and supporting the sector to accelerate growth.

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