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Demand fails to lift 'green' farm incomes

(First Edition)

ORGANIC food producers in the UK make little or no money, says a Government report, despite growing consumer demand.

A Ministry of Agriculture-commissioned report on the economics of organic farming, published next week, will reveal that the average income on wholly organic farms in 1989/90 was derisory. Farms with a conventional and organic mix fared little better.

The study follows the release of a British Organic Farmers' report which shows that 70 per cent of growing consumer demand for organic food - which commands premiums of between 10 per cent and 30 per cent, and is worth pounds 100m a year - is met by imports.

Organic farming leaders have criticised the ministry report since it was released, in draft, for consultation. They claim it does not compare like for like - large scale organic units with similar size conventional farms.

Three-quarters of the organic farms in business in 1989 were surveyed. But the Soil Association, which grants farms their organic status, says that the report probably gives an accurate picture of profits at the time, and cannot offer any evidence that incomes have improved since.

Since the report was commissioned the number of farmers opting to produce 'green' food without chemicals has risen by 150 per cent, according to British Organic Growers. There are now 1,100 organic producers in the UK, farming 125,000 acres or 0.2 per cent of the country's agricultural land.

The organic lobby has been calling for direct government payments of pounds 45 an acre, to put its producers on a par with conventional agriculture.

Supporting organic farming would be a more effective way of reducing Europe's food mountains and protecting the environment than current agricultural policy, it argues.

Agriculture Minister John Gummer has supported organic farming, and is spending pounds 3.5m over three years on research into organics. But he has so far failed to offer any direct payments to organic farmers.