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UK Study Shows Organic Farms Produce 32% More Jobs Than Conventional Farms

LONDON - Organic farming can help reverse a sharp decline in Britain's agricultural workforce, creating on average 32 percent more jobs than conventional farming, according to a study issued by the Soil Association on Monday.

"The decline in the agricultural workforce has been just as dramatic as the decline of skylarks," Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett told a news conference, referring to the British bird whose population has fallen sharply.

Melchett said British policymakers had tended to focus on the benefits of organic farming for biodiversity but should pay more attention to social benefits such as job creation.

"The Brits have tended to be very keen on birds...We think the social benefits should get a look in too," he said.

The Soil Association is Britain's organic certification body.

There has been a 79 percent drop in Britain's agricultural workforce since 1952, according to census data issued by Britain's farm ministry.

Michael Green, one of the study's authors, said this had resulted in an isolated, ageing farming population, adding that organic farmers are on average sven years younger than their conventional counterparts.

About 4 percent of British farms are currently organic, and the study estimated that if all farms were to convert it would create an additional 93,000 on-farm jobs.

"Labour replaces chemicals and drugs on organic farms -- there is simply more to be done on the farm to make sure the herd is healthy and productive," dairy farmer Gordon Tweddle said in one of the report's case studies.

Economist Sean Rickard of the Cranfield School of Management said it was obvious that organic farming employed more people but less clear that this was a benefit.

"The most expensive cost for farmers is labour and that is why organic food as a rule of thumb costs half as much again (50 percent more)," he said.

Rickard said there was only a niche group of consumers willing to pay the higher prices and the lower yields for organic farming meant that if all British farms were to convert the country would become heavily dependent on imports.