5 July 2002

Oversupply of organic lambs widely forecast

A DOUBLING of the number of organic lambs produced this year is likely to see the market over-supplied for a period this autumn, the Soil Association has admitted.

Up to 230,000 organic lambs are expected to be produced in the UK during 2002, said Phil Stocker, head of agriculture for the Soil Association.

"There will certainly be an over-supply situation in the autumn. I dont think the market is ready for the volume of lamb coming through."

Mr Stocker said it was important to work with retailers to look at the problem strategically.

The association was already forging partnerships with wholesalers and supermarkets to discuss solutions such as price promotions.

But despite the impending problem there was still a need for expansion in the organic sector, insisted Mr Stocker. "The ones to encourage at the moment are arable farmers and horticulturists. But there is still a case for a slow and steady expansion of the sheep and beef sector."

Meanwhile, a leading organic body has renewed its concerns about the Organic Food and Farming Targets Campaign which wants 30% of the farmland in England and Wales to be converted to organic farming by 2010.

Organic Farmers and Growers, which claimed to license one in four of the countrys organic farms, has written to agriculture minister Elliot Morley outlining its concerns about the campaign.

Organic production accounts for just 3.2% of UK land at present. OFG suspects there may be too little demand for organic products to sustain 10-fold growth.

It also highlights the lack of research and development to help thousands of growers convert successfully.

OFG chief executive David Edwards said the Organics Target Bill put forward by the campaign group was honourable, but had to be objective. "It must be sustainable on a demand-led basis. The industry needs from government a clear rationale for achieving a balance between supply and demand."

The state of the organic milk market highlighted the need for such balance.

"The reason for oversupply is that so many farmers converted to organic in one go," he said. &#42