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British farmers missing out on organic boom

05 July 1999
British farmers missing out on organic boom

BRITISH farmers are losing out on the premium prices commanded by organic produce because they are refusing to convert their production systems …more…


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British farmers missing out on organic boom

05 July 1999
British farmers missing out on organic boom

By Jonathan Riley

CONFIDENCE in the long-term future of organic farming appears to be booming, with retailers and pro-organic bodies demanding more chemical-free agriculture.

But some farmers are losing out on the premium prices commanded by organic produce because they are refusing to convert their production systems.

Supermarkets and the Soil Association today (Monday) announced that they would like 10% of British agriculture to be organic before 2005.

Speaking at the Royal Show, Chris Brown of Marks and Spencer said that, as soon as more British organic produce was available, it would be taken. “Our customers are demanding quality organic food,” he said.

“They also want it to be British, and our aim is to supply more and more of our range from British-grown produce.”

Marks and Spencer analysts believe organic produce could account for up to 20% of the retailers food sales in the near future.

Britains biggest supermarket, Tesco, believes that its own organic sales could be even higher, reaching 50% within five years.

“We are seeing customers making repeat purchases and the turnover is going from strength to strength,” said Roy Maynard, a Tesco vegetable buyer.

Robert Duxbury, of the Multiple Retailers Organic Working Group, said the organisation was seriously encouraging farmers to expand into organic production.

“This is one area where we simply cant get enough UK produce to satisfy demand, and it undermines British producers if we are forced to import food.”

But some producers are reluctant to convert because they believe the market price will fall once enough organic supplies are secured.

Their fears are partly fuelled by the biotechnology giant Monsanto, which claims that the market for organic produce will be oversupplied within five years.

Colin Merrit, Monsantos technical manager, said he was confident genetically modified crops could cut input costs by 50%, leading to bigger profits for farmers.

“The introduction of new products is being hampered by decisions in Europe and denying farmers the chance of a sustainable future,” he added.

Even so, producers should not be afraid of cashing in on the organic boom, said Carlo Leifert of Aberdeen Universitys Centre for Organic Agriculture.

“If you can make a killing for five years, make it,” he said. “No-one stops you from converting back to conventional farming if it makes more money.”

Other farmers are reluctant to go organic because it frequently takes at least two years to convert to chemical-free production.

During that time, producers experience reduced yields, but not the premium prices that certified produce commands.

Nevertheless, the pro-organic Soil Association says the number of producer applications for organic certification has climbed 54% in the past year.

The organisation has also seen a 73% increase in processor applications over the last 12 months, with organic food sales increasing by 40%.

Soil Association director Patrick Holden called for the government to increase the level of financial support to encourage more farmers to convert to organic production.

“We urge the government to recognise the genuine contribution organic farming can make to a truly sustainable future in UK agriculture,” he said.

“By increasing their support we will be able to compete fairly with our EU partners and give consumers what they want at a fair price.”

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British farmers missing out on organic boom

05 July 1999
British farmers missing out on organic boom

    Read more on:
  • News

British farmers missing out on organic boom

05 July 1999
British farmers missing out on organic boom

    Read more on:
  • News

British farmers missing out on organic boom

05 July 1999
British farmers missing out on organic boom

    Read more on:
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