Organic farming is creating hundreds of jobs, revitalising the rural economy and encouraging younger, happier people into agriculture, claims a Soil Association report.

Only 4% of UK farms are organic.

But 93,000 on-farm jobs would be created if all UK farmers went organic, according to the study – an average of 32% more jobs per farm than conventional agriculture.

The research reveals that the average organic farmer is 49 years old – seven years younger than the average non-organic farmer.

And it claims that organic farmers are optimistic about the future, with 64% expecting their family to take on the farm.

Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett said the environmental benefits of organic farming were well known.

But this was the first comprehensive study to assess the social benefits of organic agriculture.

“This younger, energetic generation of organic farmers revitalising agriculture and boosting their local economies offers a dynamic and viable future for UK agriculture.”

But economist San Rickard, of the Cranfield School of Management, described the report as a “waste of paper”.

It was obvious that organic farming was labour intensive and that was why organic food was so expensive, he told Farmers Weekly.

Few consumers were willing to pay higher prices for organic food, said Mr Rickard.

If all farms went organic, the country would become heavily dependent on imports because of the lower yields.

Organic food would remain a niche market.

But Lord Melchett said:

“We make no bones about the fact that you have to pay for quality, but it is also worth saying that while there are some higher costs, there are of course much lower costs in terms of nitrogen and pesticides.”

“The bit of the market that is growing by 30% each year is direct sales from farms – box schemes, farmers’ markets and farm shops.

There is quite a lot of evidence to show that organic food sold this way is cheaper than going to a supermarket.”

fwnews@rbi.co.uk