7 July 1995

Organic milk unit is to sell up despite demand

By John Burns

DESPITE a growing demand for organic milk, Elm Farm Organic Research Centre, near Newbury, is to sell its dairy herd and milk quota this autumn.

"Elm Farm has only quota for 70% of its production, and with present high quota values we were sitting on £155,000 tax-free and paying over £20,000 a year to lease in the rest", said director Lawrence Woodward.

"Bearing in mind the uncertain future of quotas, and the duties and responsibilities of the trustees, it was decided to sell up."

The money will be re-invested in advisory, education and training work. Possible loss of two or three jobs at Elm Farm was attacked by Nigel Titchen of the Institute of Professionals, Managers and Specialists. It was foolish to sell the dairy herd when more research was needed and there was a growing demand for organic milk.

Mr Woodward said it was likely only one person would be redundant, and the organic milk supplied by Elm Farm to the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-op would easily be replaced by new producers being signed up by the co-op.

"Weve never done much research on dairy cows anyway, and we will still have the core group of organic milk producers we work with on specific projects."

Arable area payments should be scrapped and replaced by payments available only to farms practising environmentally friendly systems, says Patrick Holden, policy director of the Soil Association.

Speaking at the new Organic Food and Farming Centre, he claimed a recent BBC Countryfile survey of viewers had shown "The public once again expressing its wish to see greater encouragement for organic farming". Yet government support for organic farming was only £1.5m out of an annual agricultural budget of £2.8bn. That was a pittance compared with the "vast amounts of taxpayers money being poured into negative and hugely unpopular set-aside and arable payments."

The public wanted food free of pesticides and antibiotics, produced by a system respecting the environment and observing the highest animal welfare standards.

"Only organic farming fits this bill."