BETTER financial incentives for organic conversion would increase organic production and help boost the image of UK meat and milk.
SAC agronomist David Younie told the British Grassland Societys winter meeting at Great Malvern, Worcs, that organic production was a long-established and successful form of farm assurance.
"Carefully devised protocols are backed by a strong image that the consumer associates with wholesomeness. This is exactly what we are trying to achieve with the many farm assurance schemes currently evolving," he said.
But despite a market growing at 50% a year and forecast value of £30bn by the year 2005, only 0.2% of agricultural land in the UK was devoted to organic production compared with 10% in some other EU countries, he said.
"This is because financial incentives for organic conversion in the UK lag behind those paid to producers on the Continent.
"British farmers are offered 82 ecu/ha to convert, whereas in Austria grassland conversion payments are 225 ecu/ha."
He suggested that since 1987 these higher incentives had encouraged a 12-fold increase in organic holdings on the Continent – from 7000 to 80,000 – and a 17-fold increase in land under organic production.
"These Continental producers are targeting the UK market, 70% of which is supplied by imports.
"Clearly there is an opportunity for UK producers to expand their market share and gain valuable premia available," he said.
Financial incentives for organic production in the UKlag behind those paid to producers on the Continent – David Younie.
• Milk: 7-9p/litre premium.
• Beef: £2.65/kg deadweight.
• Finished lamb: O-grade £2.45/kg dw; U-grade carcass £2.70/kg dw.