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Monday, 29 July, 2002, 01:38 GMT 02:38 UK
Organic farmers 'face cash crisis'
organic stall
The Soil Association wants payments for organic farmers
Britain's organic farmers are facing a cash crisis that could close down the UK market, according to a new survey.

Research by the National Farmers' Union claims one in three organic farmers is losing money.

Its publication comes on the day the government announces its Organic Action Plan for England in an effort to improve the organic market.

The message coming out of our report is clear - organic production in Britain is at risk

Ben Gill, NFU
The 21-point plan, drawn up following the publication of the Curry report into sustainable farming, includes substantially increased premiums and a commitment from supermarkets to work towards increasing British farmers' share of the organic market.

Campaigners for organic food and farming have described the plan as "a huge and significant step forward".

The demand for organic produce has increased exponentially in recent years, but about 70% of the produce in supermarkets is imported, compared with 30% for conventionally farmed food.


The action plan commits the government to raising premiums for organic farmers who produce the same goods as those we import most of - cereals, fruit and vegetables.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has set aside 5m over five years to support research in the organic sector, to start next year.

But the NFU's latest Organic Farming report shows that producers have been left fighting for survival alongside traditional farmers.

organic vegetables
Most organic produce in the UK is imported
The report shows that while the amount of land in organic production in the UK rose by a third last year, the number of organic farmers making a loss has almost doubled in the past five years.

NFU President Ben Gill said it was vital that the government recognised the value of home-grown organic production, its needs, and the development of the sector.

"The UK is more dependent on imported organic produce than any other European country, with imports currently accounting for 75% of total sales," he said.

"Farmers, quite rightly, fear that this together with falling returns on organic produce is undermining the future sustainability of the domestic market."

Ongoing payments

The Soil Association agreed that drastic action was needed but welcomed the government's plan as a major breakthrough.

A spokesman said: "Retailers must ensure that a fair price is paid and reduce the level of imported food.

"The opportunities to further expand organic farming are as real as they were five years ago with sales of organic food, and the number of farmers going into conversion, rising annually."

But he said ongoing payments to organic farmers should be introduced as soon as possible as UK producers are not entitled to the same payments available to organic farmers in most European countries.

The Soil Association added that the demand for UK organic food could be increased by encouraging schools, hospitals and other public bodies to source organic food.

Defra will also be doing its bit by serving organic food in the department's canteen on a trial basis.

Jon Kay reports from Lower Failand
"Just a couple of miles away cheaper organic produce arrives by ship from abroad"
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