British organic farmers profits at risk - farm study
LONDON - A rising number of British organic farmers are losing money on the sustainable regime seen as key to Britain\'s agricultural future, a survey from the National Farmers Union (NFU) said yesterday.
The survey showed that a third of organic farmers were making losses. It was released just two weeks after Britain boosted funding to more environmentally-friendly agriculture in the wake of last year\'s foot-and-mouth epidemic and a mad cow scandal.
\"The message coming out of our report is clear - organic production in Britain is at risk,\" said Ben Gill, NFU president.
According to the poll of 2,000 organic producers, 15.9 percent of producers are losing up to 10,000 pounds a year, with 15 percent making even greater losses.
But at the very top end, four percent of organic farmers earn between 75,000 and 100,000 pounds a year and three percent between 50,000 to 75,000 pounds, the study showed.
Still, the amount of land in UK organic production rose by a third last year, while the number of UK organic farmers making a loss has almost doubled in the past five years.
\"We have the willingness, we have the expertise and we have the demand, but without sufficient returns and falling business confidence the future of organic production in this country remains uncertain,\" said Oliver Dowding, NFU organic chairman.
CONCERNS OVER IMPORTS AND MARKETING
The NFU blamed high imports in part for the problem. The UK imports more organic produce than any other European country, some 75 percent of total sales.
In addition, it said a lack of government data on the organic sector is hampering producers\' efforts to tailor supply to demand, with nearly a third of produce sold to the wholesale trade and a quarter to co-operatives.
Less than 20 percent of produce is currently sold directly to the supermarkets and the catering sector takes just six percent of production.
The NFU called for a fair price for organic produce that reflects increased production costs and losses, clearer labelling on country of origin and standards, marketing assistance and improved government data.
It also asked for \"government support in the form of supplementary reward for environmental enhancement.\"
Early last week, Britain said it would push the farm ministry budget up to 2.9 billion pounds in 2005/06 from 2.5 billion this year to radically overhaul farming, shifting from intensive operations to organic farming and sustainable schemes to help revive the fortunes of farmers as incomes plummet.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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