14 August 1998

Think hard before a


Premiums for organic milk

could fall by up to 50%,

delegates heard at a Milk

Marque and Soil Association


Simon Wragg reports

WITH milk prices floundering, many producers could be tempted to switch to organic production with its 9p/litre premium, but it wont suit everyone and premiums could fall by 50% over the next few years.

These were the facts spelled out to delegates attending the Conversion to Organic Milk Production conference at Broomfield College, Derby, which attracted about 100 delegates from as far a field as Kent and Yorks.

Mark Measures, agricultural development officer for the Soil Association, warned producers not to look at organics through rose-tinted glasses. "The premiums look appealing, but not every farm will be suitable for conversion," he said.

Organics required an integrated approach across the whole business. Some income-generating ventures, for example large intensive dairy or pig units on small mixed farms which result in a high muck and slurry loading to soil, arent compatible, warned Mr Measures.

Producers should do their sums carefully, he said. "I cannot stress enough the importance of detailed planning to assess whether organic conversion can be achieved and is financially viable."

Keith Britton, Milk Marques organic salesman, warned producers to be realistic about returns from milk. While the UK enjoys a 9ppl premium for organic supplies which are in high demand, in the rest of the EU, where supplies are higher, premiums are about 4ppl.

"Its unrealistic to expect premiums to stay at their present level. It would be pure speculation to say theyll still be at the same level a few years from now," added Mr Britton.

Mr Measures urged producers to take these facts into account and use Organic Conversion Information Service (OCIS) staff and its initial free visit to establish whether conversion would be viable.

"Producers must overcome the misconceptions surrounding conversion. It need not lead to financial crisis if planned properly. A phased approach, converting 30% of land each year, is often the best," Mr Measures added.

According to the Soil Association, conversion can be completed within three years. Land must be managed under organic principles for a year to attain conversion and a further two for organic status. Cows must be managed organically for nine months and fed organically for three months to convert.


&#8226 Not suitable for all farms.

&#8226 Detailed plans essential.

&#8226 Premiums could fall by 50%.

&#8226 Three years to convert.

It is vital to assess whether organic conversion is achievable and financially viable, warns the Soil Associations Mark Measures.

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