Britain's organic farmers already making a loss

Related tags Organic farming Sustainable agriculture

Despite a government keen to promote organic farming, Britain's
organic farmers are already making a loss. Dairy farmers in England
are being forced to sell organic milk as cheaper "ordinary" milk
because demand is so low, reported The Telegraph yesterday.

Dairy farmers in England are being forced to sell organic milk as cheaper "ordinary" milk because demand is so low, reported The Telegraph yesterday.

Hundreds of milk producers who followed the British government's advice to "go organic" are now selling at a loss owing to saturation of the organics market. Some organic lamb and beef farmers are also facing a lack of demand for their products.

The problems have come to light just days after the government's Future on Farming report which urged a widescale move to organic farming to protect the agricultural industry and prevent many farmers from financial ruin.

The report called for greater efforts to boost traditional farming in Britain, with a new strategy for research, development standards and marketing.

One dairy farmer, Oliver Dowding, told The Telegraph: "I am producing high-quality organic milk, with all the extra costs, and then have to sell it as ordinary milk at a loss because the market just isn't there. But it's either that or I pour it down the drain and get nothing. If this situation goes on then a lot of farmers will go to the wall."

The Soil Association, the organisation representing Britain's organic industry, said that the "rush to organic" had also been fuelled by the supermarkets' decision to cut the price of conventional milk and sell it as a loss leader. In recent years many conventional farmers have been forced to accept only 17p per litre for non-organic milk - 4p per litre less than it costs to produce.

Many farmers were lured by higher prices for organic products, but this led to a saturated market and only half of the organic milk produced being sold for the higher price. The rest is re-labelled as ordinary milk and sold for 17p per litre.

Many of the farmers hit by the low demand have converted to organic farming in the past few years after being told by the Government that organic agriculture was "the future".

Mr Dowding, who produces 900,000 litres of organic milk a year, said: "The Government has to take a lot of the blame for this mess. They said organic was the future, but nobody asked where the market would come from. We need a big 'Buy Organic' campaign to get the message across."

A spokesman for Onscow, an organic dairy farmers' co-operative, said: "Organic farmers are showing commitment to high-quality food and the environment and their costs are higher. It's clearly not right that after all their efforts they are selling their milk for the lower non-organic prices."

Meat farmers are also being hit. Robert Foster, a spokesman for the National Beef Association, said: "The organic beef market is in serious danger of becoming saturated and that will mean casualties."​ One farmer based near Perth recently had to sell 240 of his 1,400 organic lambs as non-organic meat, receiving £32 per head instead of the organic £55 per head. "It's soul-destroying. These are top-grade lambs and they cost a lot to produce,"​ he said. "But the demand just isn't there."

Mr Holden said it was time the British people shed their "obsession with cheap food"​ and recognised that "if you want to have the best food you have to pay a fair price for it".

There has been a continual debate over the subsidies needed to cover the costs of producing organic food. However a spokesman from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "We should not be looking for new ways to pay farmers more subsidies. We want to help them to develop businesses that are strong enough to stand on their own two feet."

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