As the UK organic food market continues to grow, with meat, fish and poultry sales up 4.1% in 2017, so does the demand for organic animal feed.

The Soil Association’s Organic Arable report reveals that demand currently significantly outstrips supply, presenting big opportunities for arable farmers considering organic conversion.

Liz Bowles, head of farming at the Soil Association, said: “We need more organic arable farmers in this country, to build our resilience and to meet the growing demand for home-grown UK feed crops satisfying the high standards and provenance of UK organic farming. Right now, there are undoubtedly positives for those converting to organic: the government is guaranteeing support for organic farms that enter the Countryside Stewardship Scheme before we leave the EU, and at the same time is sharing big ambitions for a future agricultural strategy that prioritises and rewards environmental protection.”

The amount of land in conversion grew by 22% last year and, while organic arable land is on the rise, most of this growth is being seen in grassland. The existing 40,000 hectares of organic arable cropping in the UK is unable to support the growing demand for feed crops. As a result, much of the organic feed used in the UK is currently imported, equivalent to an estimated 160,000 tonnes every year. As the report demonstrates, doubling our organic arable cropping area to 80,000 hectares would make a significant contribution to reducing our reliance on imported feed.

The report benchmarks organic farm types against their non-organic counterparts on net farm income, showing a figure of £211/ha for organic compared to £96/ha for non-organic in 2015-2016. The lower input costs for fertilisers and pesticides in organic systems, coupled with the emphasis on rotations and mixed enterprises, add to organic’s whole farm profitability.

Sophie Alexander converted her 400 acre Dorset farm to organic arable in 2014. She said: “First and foremost, my decision to convert the whole farm to organic was financial. Part of the farm was already converted but there remained 250 acres still farmed non-organically. This gave me the opportunity to benchmark the two systems side by side. Over three years of comparison I found that the organic crop margins were consistently higher. Not always the highest net return but the bigger margins were very attractive in mitigating risk.”

The report provides guidance, inspiration and practical advice for conversion and management of organic arable and can be found on the Soil Association's website.