12 January 1996

Organic unity move in conference vote

MOVES to unite Britains fledgling organic farming industry are to be made at next months annual conference in Bristol.

Delegates will vote to reunite the British Organic Farmers/Org- anic Growers Association with the Soil Association after 15 years.

The move is seen as an attempt to bolster links between the UKs organic industry and consumers, which have suffered since the 1980s, leaving producers remote from the market-place.

Patrick Holden, Soil Association director, said it was time for greater cohesion among the organic farming community, adding that too many people had been confused about the state of the sector.

"The Soil Association has certified organic farms, while the BOF provides a service for commercial producers. Most users require both services but it leaves the individual with a difficult choice about who to join."

The Soil Association certifies and inspects up to 90% of the UKs 50,000ha (123,500 acres) under certification.

Nick Lampkin, of the University of Aberystwyths agricultural economics department, said Britain was lagging well behind other northern European countries, particularly Austria.

"We have about as much land under organic production as the southern European and Mediterranean nations. Austria is ahead of the field with 12% of land under organic certification, which represents half the number of farms in Europe and a third of organic land."

Mr Lampkin said there was evidence of a small increase in the number of UK organic farms from 0.3 to 0.5% over the past year but confidence was low.

&#8226 Up to 30 Devon farms are exp- ected to switch to organic production in a £1m move to make organic products cheaper and more accessible. The county council-led project hopes to create 150 jobs by urging growers to sell direct to the public. Half the £930,000 budget for the project will be funded by EU money, with the rest coming from the county council, district councils, MAFF, and the Rural Development Commission.