The number of organic producers in the West Midlands has declined for a second year in a row, as farmers try to recover from cuts in funding and milk prices.

As producers celebrate Organic Week, figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs showed a five per cent decline in organic producers in the region between 2003 to 2005.

Two years ago there were around 330 organic farms in the West Midlands. However, by 2004 there were 320 and this year the number was down to 313.

Defra refused to speculate on the cause of the decline, but said it was too small to give great cause for concern.

"The figures show a slight decline, but the long term trend is that the number of people buying organic food is on the increase," a Defra spokesman said.

Whilst stressing the fourfold increase of UK producers choosing organic methods since April 1997, the Soil Association said the dip reflected national trends.

A spokesman for the organisation said: "A number of farms have withdrawn from organic management in the past year, either reverting to non-organic management or leaving farming altogether.

"However, one of the main causes will be the farmers who have dropped out because they have come to the end of their five-year Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) agreements.

"We saw this a lot in Scotland where several large hill farmers dropped out causing a large drop in the area of organically managed land."

Under the Government's OFS, farmers are entitled to support while they convert to organic production standards.

The Government has allocated a pot of around £20 million every year until 2006 for farmers wishing to convert.

Launched in 2000, many are now reaching the end of their support payments.

Organic groups in the West Midlands claim the withdrawal of support, combined with the slashing of milk prices, hit dairy farmers in the region particularly hard.

Mark Measures, head of the Herefordshire Organic Producers Group, said some farms had been forced out of production.

"In 2001/02 the price of organic milk was high and dairy farmers found themselves in a situation of oversupply - more than a third of organic milk ended up being sold as non-organic.

"The price of organic milk collapsed and farmers who made plans based on the original prices couldn't continue."

However, Mr Measures also believes that the dip is part of a natural cycle of demand and oversupply.

"I think its shows a natural growth progression of an expanding market.

"I expect to see the number of producers increase with demand over the next few years."

Adrian Steele, from the Vale of Evesham Organic Group, said he had seen a rise in local producers over recent years.

"This area doesn't really have much dairy farming so we haven't been affected by milk prices."