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Friday, 31 August, 2001, 00:06 GMT 01:06 UK
Seeking an organic future
Cows
Organic food is increasingly popular
By BBC environment correspondent Richard Bilton

High in the Northumberland hills Steve Ramshaw tours his land.

From these windswept fields he sends organic produce across the country.

He says people are prepared to pay more for a different way of farming.


Farmers are pleased to deliver a nice countryside but at the end of the day it has to make financial sense

David Shaw
Defra
Like his sausage meat, much of the produce is prepared on the farm.

Organic food has been criticised as overpriced with too much made of its quality.

But Steve has joined a growing industry. Five years ago organic produce made up just 0.4% of total food sales in the UK.

By this year the figure stood at around 1.5% and it is estimated by 2006 it will be 5%.

Rising numbers

Most of that is imported but the growth is pulling in British farmers.

In 1996, 848 farms were organic but the figure has risen to 3,563.

It is expected that within five years nearly 8,000 farmers will be operating like Steve.


My consumers appreciate the fact that we care for the land

Steve Ramshaw
The way the land is looked after is as important as the produce.

Steve is paid to look after the land, to keep the water clean and to protect the wildlife.

Looking after land adds to the reputation of his business but also gives an extra source of income.

Dual role

A stewardship scheme alone is worth 8,000 per year. A pond has been created and wildlife is being lured back.

Government advisers believe this dual role will be increasingly important for many farmers.

Steve Ramshaw
Farmer Steve Ramshaw looks after the land
Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs land manager David Shaw said: "It is a change of mindset but most farmers are proud of the land they manage.

"They are pleased to deliver a nice countryside but at the end of the day it has to make financial sense."

Ten years ago Steve was a builder and he joined the agricultural industry as many were trying to get out.

Sustainable agriculture

He says farmers need to think about who they are working for.

"My consumers appreciate the fact that we care for the land.

"I think it's important because we want to see sustainable agriculture and I want to see this land here for the future."

Organic farming will never be mass market - for consumers it is still an expensive alternative - but Steve lives in a valley where half the farms have disappeared.

By examining every section of his business he has shown there are new ways to make money out of the land.



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