9 July 1999

Organic bandwagon

really rolling

By Jonathan Riley

CONFIDENCE in the long-term future of organic farming appears to be booming, with retailers and others urging producers to cash-in on the demand and convert to organic production.

There are still, however, many farmers who are reluctant to convert, fearing that the current premiums might not last long.

But at the show, supermarkets and other organisations highlighted the growing consumer demand for organic food. The Soil Association also announced its aim to have 10% of all British farm output produced organically before 2005.

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."

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."

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

"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," he said.

Soil Association director Patrick Holden called on 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."