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Payments for organic farming are rising by an average of 25% for those entering a new scheme with Countryside Stewardship. The government has boosted all payments for farming that benefits the environment via Countryside Stewardship, but the increase for organic is significantly above the average increase of 10%.
The renewed support follows another rate hike last year when payments for organic rose by between 46% and 500% for those entering a new scheme.
It also follows the 11th year of consecutive growth for the UK organic market, which topped £3.1 billion in 2022 after a challenging year for both businesses and shoppers.
Good news for indies
As fine food retailers focus on producers championing nature-friendly and sustainable farming methods, this increased support for conversion is good news.
Adrian Steele, organic sector advisor at the Soil Association, told Speciality Food, “This is welcome news for those who champion organic and sustainably sourced local produce including fine food retailers such as farm shops and food halls. This will help secure long-term local supplies and increase the volume and varieties of fresh produce.
“Local and independent retailers have already demonstrated that their local supply chains deliver greater resilience than large scale supply chains in the multiples where many supermarkets have endured significant disruption and empty shelves for a prolonged period.
Roger Kerr, CEO of Organic Farmers and Growers, explained, “Clearly if more farmers convert to organic there will be a greater availability locally for organic retailers. It is critical that these local networks grow and prosper.
“We know that the consumer appetite for organic produce remains strong. With the recent passing of the Genetic Technology Act, there is likely to be more shoppers seeking reassurance about the integrity of their food which organic’s rigorous standards continue to deliver.”
Growing more sustainable food in the UK
Of course, this will also benefit farmers and growers who wish to produce food more sustainably.
As Roger explained, “Improved payments under the new schemes will influence farmers who are making the decision to undertake organic conversion and help support the delivery of the many environmental and social benefits that organic offers.”
After a tough few years, this is certainly welcome news. According to Adrian, “All farmers have faced huge challenges during the last few years with the combined impacts of the pandemic, the Ukraine War, post-Brexit policies, extreme weather, and the cost-of-living crisis. But it is clear that there are big opportunities for sustainable farming and organic is receiving renewed government support.
“We are pleased to see this renewed commitment to rewarding organic farming. Alongside continued growth in the market, this should give farmers confidence in switching to or maintaining organic practices, despite the short-term uncertainty facing every farm.”
Sustainable farming charity Sustain also welcomed the news, as James Woodward, sustainable farming officer, added, “The support for organic farming will hopefully incentivise an increase in the uptake of conversion payments. In turn, that should increase the domestic market for organic food from UK farms, which will benefit SME retailers. Currently, the UK imports much of the organic food it sells that could otherwise be produced in the UK.”
Going even further
Despite a positive step forward, farming groups believe the government could go even further.
As Roger explained, “We’re pleased to see rates increase and for organic growers to be more fairly rewarded. However, we’ve still to see the comprehensive organic standard we’ve been promised. A dedicated organic standard would underline the government’s commitment to more sustainable food production and would help Defra achieve the positive outcomes showcased by some of its stated ambitions.
“Open recognition of organic in government communications on nature-friendly farming would also go a long way to creating a more positive policy environment for organic and would encourage others to name-check ‘organic’ more openly.”
James agreed, “The UK government needs to go further by having a clearer vision to support a transition to nature-friendly farming systems. This includes being more joined-up on schemes, grants, and regulations so that they are supporting the sector in this way.”
Adrian also suggested that the prime minister and his team take note of other governments, as he concluded, “Government funding support is contributing to a strong forecast for organic’s continued success in the UK in 2023, in particular the Scottish government’s ambition to double the amount of organic land by 2026.
“We would urge the Westminster government to make a similar commitment with a clear target to increase organic land in England to support those farmers already considering transitioning to organic and help the organic sector plan with confidence to meet growing consumer demand.”