7 July 2000
Act to revive move to organic – Holden

By John Burns and Jonathan Riley

THE Soil Association has called for urgent government intervention to reverse a dramatic slide in the number of producers applying for organic conversion in England.

Almost 1200 producers made initial enquiries to the MAFF-funded Organic Conversion Information Service between April and June in 1999.

But only 400 farmers called in for advice during the same period this year.

And the number of producers applying for conversion has slowed to about 60 a month less than a quarter of the June 1999 figure.

Soil Association director Patrick Holden blamed the figures on the cash-starved Organic Farming Scheme which ran out of money in England last November and will not reopen until April 2001.

“We are told the government wants farmers to market their way out of the current difficulties, yet they ignore the market for organic produce and organic farmings potential environmental benefits.

“Despite farm minister Nick Browns apparent keenness for organic farming, no minister has done less for our industry or spent less time in discussion with us than he has,” Mr Holden said.

“We are beginning to believe that the lack of action must come from the Prime Minister, who perhaps hasnt realised the importance of what we are doing.”

Mr Holden called for dialogue with Mr Brown and an immediate reopening of the organic farming scheme with a 500 million cash injection to end “the demoralising stop-start process of support”.

At a separate venue earlier in the week, Mr Holden told Farmers Weekly he was confident that with the help of well informed consumers his organisation could persuade supermarkets to adopt pricing policies which will deliver fair prices to organic food producers.

Supermarkets current negotiating methods and intense competition between them was producing relentless pressure to reduce prices.

For instance, this year organic carrot producers were talking of receiving prices as low as 170/tonne, compared with 400/tonne in the past three years.

Mr Holden said: “We want to broker the deal whereby all supermarkets commit to a fair price to producers and completely abandon the concept of premiums over conventional prices, so we stop talking about organic premiums and start talking about what farmers need to make a fair return.

“We are on the case and hope to achieve this objective by this autumn.”