By Max Clarke

After rapid growth after the year 2000, organic farmland in the UK has edged into decline, shrinking by 3% since 2009, as cash-strapped Britons increasingly opt for cheaper alternatives.

Figures published today by the government’s environmental body, Defra, yesterday confirmed reductions in cereal, vegetable and other organic produce yields, with similar reductions in farmland.

Poultry and pigs also dropped, with gains reversing back in 2008, though cattle numbers have continued to increase.

Speaking about the declining yields, the Soil Association’s trade director, Finn Cottle observed that the rate of decline had been levelling out and that growth could still be seen in some key sectors. Said Cottle:

"The Soil Association is cautiously optimistic. Organic sales have stabilised over the last year showing signs of resilience and recovery despite a slight decline due to the tough economic climate. The recession has had an impact, with many consumers reviewing their food budgets.

“Sales of organic food were also affected as supermarkets cut back shelf space and availability - this is a significant factor as supermarkets account for about 72 percent organic food and drink sales.

"On a positive note Waitrose and Marks & Spencer anticipate modest growth for 2011, while Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and the Co-operative predict level sales year on year."

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