7 December 2001
Organic boom at an end?
By Adrienne Francis
FALLING prices for organic produce have prompted fears that the boom-time for the sector is over.
A drop in organic milk prices, first reported by FARMERS WEEKLY in October, is being mirrored in other sectors, an investigation by the magazine has found.
The Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative (OMSCo) continues to sell only 48% of its organic milk into the organic market at 24-5ppl, down from 29.5ppl last year.
But some producers are being paid even lower prices, as much of the rest is going for processing.
OMSCo farmer-supplier David Harding said: “On average, we are receiving 23.5ppl.”
Organic lamb producers are also feeling the heat.
Last years price of 2.85/kg deadweight fell to 2.15/kg before recovering last week to 2.20/kg.
Sussex farmer Martin Hole hopes the market recovers further.
“The boom-time premium was never going to last,” he said.
“But if it were to fall much beneath this level, production just would not be sustainable.”
Organic potato prices have fallen to 220-230/t from 280-300/t.
The up-side is that demand for box schemes is booming, so some farmers are benefiting from increased sales.
Andy Johnson, of Riverford Organic Vegetables, Devon, said sales were up 20%.
“Returns are more constant than they have been in the past eight years.”
Most organic products still sell for more than conventional produce.
But the slump is worrying Kent grower Paul Ward, who sells organic pears for 1.40/kg, compared with a conventional price of 82p/kg.
His premiums have dropped consistently and recently fell another 5p/kg.
He said: “Organic soft fruit needs a strong premium because it has lower yields of saleable product.”
Some premiums are so unpredictable that people refuse to talk about them.
Nick Marsden is sales director for KG Fruits, a co-op which claims to sell 98% of the organic strawberries grown in the UK.
He said: “It is so sensitive at the moment, it really would be dangerous for me to make any comment.”
But commodity prices remain comparatively stable.
Brian Wilburn of grain traders Gleadell Banks said organic quality wheat prices have ranged from 185-200/t over the last year.
Organic pea and bean prices have also increased, he added.
Specialist sectors appear to be the most profitable.
Ritchie Riggs of Providence Farm Organic Meats, Devon, is looking forward to a bumper Christmas.
Mail orders for his organic turkeys are flooding in – despite a 5% price rise.