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Country report - UK 2012

Written by Susanne Padel, The Organic Research Centre Elm Farm

This article was originally written for the publication "Organic in Europe", published by the IFOAM EU Group in collaboration with the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL, Switzerland, and the Mediterranean Institute for Agronomic Research CIHEAM-IAM, Bari, Italy.

Key indicators 2012

  • Organic agricultural area: 590,009 hectares
  • Operators:
    • Organic producers: 4,281
    • Organic processors: 2,206
    • Organic importers: 95
    • Organic exporters: No data
  • Retail sales: EUR 1,950 million

Area and operator data: Eurostat, Defra; market data: Soil Association

History of organic farming

  • 1946: Living Soil written by Eve Balfour, followed by the foundation of the Soil Association
  • 1973: The organisation Organic Farmers and Growers is founded
  • 1980s: Other organisations (including two other control bodies) are founded
  • 1981: Safeway is the first supermarket to sell organic products, followed by Sainsbury’s
  • 1987: The United Kingdom Register of Organic Food Standards (UKROFS) is established with the aim of unifying organic production standards
  • 1994: Area-based support is granted, but rates are lower than in most other EU countries and there is regional variation
  • 2003: ACOS (Advisory Committee on organic standards) replaces UKROFS
  • 2011: The government dissolves ACOS and its support for conversion advice
  • 2007: The Organic Trade Board is established

Key sector institutions

Production base: land use and key crops

Of the total organic area of 590,009 hectares

  • 68.7 % consists of permanent grassland and grazing areas (405,569 hectares),
  • 30.4 % arable land (179,227 hectares), and
  • 0.84 % permanent crops (4,952 hectares).

The key arable crops are

  • green fodder from arable land (106,525 hectares),
  • cereals (48,123 hectares) and
  • vegetables (10,645 hectares).

The key permanent crops are

  • apples (1,284 hectares),
  • nuts (223 hectares) and
  • berries (89 hectares).


The market returned to growth in 2013 after several years of decline. The UK market is strongly dominated by multiple retailers (e.g. Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Morrison). Box schemes and internet/mail order have shown substantial growth.

  • Top-selling products: Milk and dairy products (EUR 393.9 million), fresh vegetables and potatoes (EUR 201.3 million), baby food (EUR 199.5 million), fresh fruits (EUR 107.5 million), and meat and meat products (EUR 90.3 million).
  • Market channels: Consist of general retail (EUR 1 432.3 million), special retail (EUR 307.2 million), direct marketing (EUR 50.9 million), catering (EUR 19.6 million) and other channels (EUR 214.95 million).
  • Exports and imports: No official import and export data are available for the whole organic sector. Key products imported are likely to be fruit, vegetables and some cereals (e.g. for bread making and feed), whereas some milk and livestock products are also exported.

Standards, legislation, organic logo

The Soil Association Standard has some differences to EU legislation on organic farming and other regulations; the other control bodies largely use EU legislation, with some minor differences. The Competent Authority (DEFRA) implements the EU Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 without specific national adaptation and has issued a guidance document on issues left to be defined at national level. Some tasks have been delegated to control bodies. There is no national logo, but several private logos of control bodies exist.

Policy support

  • National action plan: Currently there is no action plan for the whole of the UK. There has been a Scottish Action Plan since 2011, www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/03/14093552/0
  • Support under EU rural development programmes: The main focus is on agri-environment schemes, are direct payments, but some other measures are also implemented, e.g. in Wales. In the UK, there is just low-level support compared to other EU member states, with differences occurring between the four devolved administrations.
  • Other policy support: Some support is available for sector organisations and research.

Research & advice

Several institutions, private and public, are active in organic farming research. The Organic Research Centre Elm Farm, Garden Organic (Formerly the Henry Doubleday Research Association), in close collaboration with the Centre for Agro-ecology and Food Security (CAFS) at Coventry University; Nafferton Organic Farming Group at the University of Newcastle, and Aberystwyth University. DEFRA, the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, participates in the ERA-Net project CORE Organic. More information available at: www.coreorganic2.org. Government funding for organic farming research has decreased in recent years. Organic farming advice is provided by several private bodies and some control bodies, with accreditation, training and support provided by IOTA (now part of the Organic Research Centre ORC).

Challenges & outlook

The biggest challenge in the UK is for the organic market to return to solid growth and to make the case to policy makers that organic farming delivers environmental benefits that are worthy of support and make organic farming more attractive for producers considering conversion.

It appears that a promotion campaign carried out in the past years with support from the EU is beginning to show effect, and it may be assumed that the positive signals the market showed in 2013 will continue.

Further information

For other relevant websites, see the section on key sector institutions.

Organic farming in the UK


Dr. Susanne Padel
The Organic Research Centre Elm Farm
Hamstead Marshall
Newbury, Berkshire RG20 0HR
United Kingdom
Tel.: +44 1488 658298
Fax: +44 1488 658503