16 April 1999

Canary flower gets another chance at Robin Bartleets Abrahams Farm, Great Tey, near Colchester, Essex. Mr Bartleet drilled 7ha (17 acres) of the crop on contract to Kings of Coggeshall. Grown for pharmaceutical oil, it is worth £4500/t. That is just as well, says Mr Bartleet – last years crop yielded 0.17t/ha, worth £780 overall. He hopes drilling a month earlier will lift yields by at least half.

US sets sights on big UK demand for organic food

By Mike Stones

BOOMING demand for organic food is leading United States farmers to target European consumers.

"More US producers are realising the significant growth potential of the European organic market," said Laura Scandurra, US agricultural attache to the Netherlands. Rising production throughout the EU, particularly in Spain and Italy, is failing to match 30-34% increases in demand, she told delegates at a recent conference on organic and natural products in Brighton.

Organic food sales in Europe are worth $4.5bn (£2.8bn) or 1.5% of total retail returns, said Ms Scandurra who studies the EU organic sector for the US government. But that figure is likely to rise to 5-10% by 2005.

Burgeoning demand would tempt US producers to lift their existing EU exports of organic wheat, flour, maize, fruits, vegetables and canned tomatoes, she predicted.

EU member states issued nearly 1800 import authorisations for organic food between 1993 and 1997, of which the US accounted for almost 25%.

But Ms Scandurra denied that EU farmers should worry about spiralling imports because demand was rising so rapidly.

Organic retail sales in the UK total £280m compared with £1.1bn in Germany and up to £450m in France. Imports account for 70% of all organic food sales in this country.

Fuelling demand are fears about food safety, particularly after the BSE crisis and the controversy over genetically modified crops and environmental concerns, she said.

The UK organic market is dominated by fruit and vegetables, which account for 54% of sales, followed by cereal products at 14% and dairy products at 7%. Future demand will focus on organic convenience and prepared foods such as ready meals, frozen vegetables and snack foods, predicted Ms Scandurra. Growth rates across Europe will be determined by the price of organic produce, product availability and the extent of supermarket involvement. Her studies reveal aggressive supermarket promotion as being an important factor behind rising demand.

And, mirroring conventional food sales, supermarkets are likely to prepare an increasingly dominant role in retailing organic foods. They already sell 67% of all UK organic produce, compared with 19% by farmers markets and home delivery services and 12% by independent stores.

Supermarkets across Europe would try to strengthen their grip on organic sales event further by introducing their own label brands, said Ms Scandurra. &#42

Intervention fears

FEARS that finished cattle prices could be hit by the release of 2300t of intervention beef for processing in the latest round of tendering by processors are being played down by the industry.

MLC economist Jane Connor says availability of 500t of forequarter, 200t of shoulder and 300t of brisket cuts for production of mince is more likely to displace imports of frozen supplies destined for processing rather than hit freshmeat sales.

The Intervention Board is also making 1300t of thick flank available for processing. Total supplies being released are equivalent to 6% of the 44,000 head weekly kill and add to the 10,000t released earlier this year.

"While take-up of intervention supplies is a factor in determining beef prices, it is important to remember that not all stocks are taken up at each round of tendering," emphasises Mrs Connor.

NBA chairman, Robert Forster, says : "It is better to release stocks now when there is a 24% shortfall in domestic supplies rather than in the post CPAS era when more beef cattle will be coming forward."

Federation of Freshmeat Whole-salers Peter Scott agrees. "It will be a good thing to get intervention stocks out of the way."

Typical prices for tendered supplies include flank for processing into mince at £368/t, forequarter for processing at £703/t, and unrestricted use of stripped loin at £3015/t, according to IB data. &#42

Tax form helps at hand

COMPLETING self-assessment tax forms can be a painful task.

To ease the process, farmers weekly is offering readers the chance to buy the Lloyds TSB Tax Guide 1999/2000 for £4.99 (a £3 discount) plus £1 postage and packing.

Written in plain English by experts, the book includes 75 tax saving ideas, a step-by-step guide to completing self-assessment forms, advice on dealing with the tax inspector, tips on tax-efficient investments, and how the Budget affects your business.

Details on 0171-404 3001, or send a cheque, payable to Profile Books Limited, to: Lloyds TSB Tax Guide offer, Profile Books Limited, 58a Hatton Garden, London EC1N 8LX, quoting "farmers weekly discount". &#42