Profits thin on ground for organic farms

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The Independent Online

Serious fears about the future of Britain's organic farming industry were revealed in a survey yesterday which showed that most farmers rated their profitability as low or borderline.

Serious fears about the future of Britain's organic farming industry were revealed in a survey yesterday which showed that most farmers rated their profitability as low or borderline.

Some 63 per cent of organic farmers told one of Britain's leading certification bodies that they made little money from their produce. Another 12 per cent said their business was no longer viable at current prices.

An overriding trend of uncertainty about the future ran through the results by Organic Farmers and Growers (OF&G). It sent the survey to all 4,000 organic farmers and the findings are based on a statistically significant 29 per cent response rate (or 1,144 replies).

While almost 90 per cent of respondents said they expected to be farming organically in one year's time, 30 per cent were undecided about whether that would be the case in five years.

Richard Thompson, the chairman of OF&G, said: "This survey highlights some quite alarming facts about the state of organic production in Britain today. Many farmers seem to feel they are not getting a good return for their efforts but are unsure about where the answer lies. Many supported the notion of better co-operation, but when margins are tight how many could afford to invest substantially in new or existing co-operatives?

"Happily, a high proportion realised that the onus is on them to work for better prices, but a disturbing number also believe that supermarket buyers have that responsibility and many are hoping for a boost from public procurement - but that channel is taking time to develop."

Since the survey was carried out, more details have been released of the Organic Entry Level Scheme, which OF&G said may serve to reassure organic farmers about future levels of funding.

Mr Thompson added: "While we know that organic farmers are going to be supported with a £60 per hectare payment, which is very good news, this will not automatically improve prices at the farm gate or the power of farmers to affect that.

"There needs to be more co-operation throughout the industry and a more professional approach to getting across the message about the quality of British organic food."

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