Organic cattle buck trend in shrinking farm sector

Dairy farming seemed to buck the trend of the shrinking organic sector last year.

The number of cattle farmed organically or in conversion rose 7.4% to 304,400 from 2013-14.

Sheep, pigs and poultry numbers all declined, along with the land area given over to organic crops or vegetables.

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The amount of farmland managed organically also fell for the sixth year, but the drop-off seems to be slowing.

Defra’s cattle figures are not split between the dairy and beef herds but experts speaking to Farmers Weekly said the milking sector was likely to have seen expansion.

Organic red meat sales have been difficult, mirroring the conventional sector, while organic dairy has been enjoying a resurgence.

The UK’s organic dairy sales grew 8.4% last year and Omsco estimates milk production to rise from 400m litres, according to the co-op’s market report.

Soil Association head of farming Liz Bowles said the latest figures were encouraging, especially the cattle numbers.

She said the organic market was back in growth, especially through independent retailers, box schemes and online.

The Soil Association is running a “Better BBQ” campaign to boost meat sales this summer.

“Despite a tighter economic climate, products are still selling and there is still a market for organic,” Ms Bowles said. “It’s about finding the right customers and making sure the products are right for those customers.”

About 549,000ha of the UK were farmed organically last year, down from 600,000ha in 2013. This was 3.2% of total farmland.

The number of certified organic farmers fell 6% to 3,695.

Since the 2008 peak, the area of organic land has dropped 39%. The number of producers is a third lower than in 2007.