13 November 1998

Retailers want to see organic aid…

By Jonathan Riley

RETAILERS are throwing their weight behind the call for maintenance payments for organic farming as escalating demand produce outstrips domestic supply.

Speaking at the launch of the Soil Associations annual organic farming report, the associations produce manager Simon Brenman said that the retail value of organic produce rose from £260m to £350m in the past 12 months. And forecasts showed that would increase to £1bn by 2002.

Mr Brenman said prices received for organic produce were up to 100% above the average for cereals, 25-100% higher for vegetables, 35% more for milk and 50% for pork.

At the launch, Alan Wilson of Waitrose and Robert Duxbury of Sainsbury predicted that this years 37% increase in demand for organic produce would continue.

Mr Duxbury said that while Sainsbury currently sold more than £1m a week of organic produce, it aimed to increase that.

And Mr Wilson said Waitrose was so confident that the trend would continue that it would substitute entire food lines with organic produce as soon as sufficient supplies became available.

But he highlighted a table in the report showing that, while producers in other EU member states received ongoing support at an annual average of 250ecus/ha (100ecus/acre), with Austrian producers being paid up to 745ecus/ha/year (300ecus/acre/ year), British producers received nothing.

"Thats what needs to be addressed," said Mr Wilson. "That is whats holding back organic farming in Britain."

The report suggested that the lack of incentives led to organic farming accounting for only 0.5% of the UK agricultural area, compared with an average EU figure of 1.33% and a maximum of 12% in some member states.

But, despite this handicap, Soil Association director Patrick Holden said that farmer interest in organic farming was at an all time high with 4522 new enquiries this year and 100,000ha (247,000 acres) either in full organic production or undergoing conversion.