organic farm© Organic Picture Lib/Rex/Shutterstock

The area of land farmed organically reached a seven-year low in 2015, according to official Defra statistics.

The United Kingdom had a total organic area of 521,000 ha in 2015, down from 549,000 ha in 2014.

These figures include land that is both fully converted to organic production and land in the conversion process.

This means there has been a 30% drop in the amount of land farmed organically since 2008 and a corresponding 35% drop in the number of producers.

See also: Organic market recovers with growth of 4.9%

However, the area in-conversion (20,600ha in 2015), expressed as a percentage of the total organic area, did show a small increase, the first rise since 2007.

Defra said this gives an indication of potential growth in the sector.

The statistics also give an interesting insight into the popularity of organics by region, with the south west of England having more organic land (147,000ha) than Scotland (126,000ha) and Northern Ireland (8,500ha) combined.

Poultry and sheep remain the most popular livestock types farmed organically, with poultry numbers rising by 6.7% in 2015 to just over two-and-a-half million birds.

Sheep numbers fell by 8.8% sheep but remained the most popular red meat species with around 874,000 animals in 2015, compared with 293,000 cattle.

Liz Bowles, head of farming at the Soil Association, said there was increased consumer demand for organic products – sales were up 4.9%, according to the organisation’s Organic Market Report 2016 – and it was a surprise that more UK farmers were not responding.

But she added: “Defra’s report for the last year does however show a changing picture for land in conversion, which showed the first increase since 2007. Soil Association Certification is receiving more enquiries into converting to organic farming than in recent years and is supporting all new licensees with technical and market intelligence as well as advice on new routes to market.”