Category Archives: DEFRA

Britain’s organic market celebrates sixth year of growth

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The Organic Research Centre has shared news of the Soil Association’s 2018 Organic Market Report which reveals that the UK organic market is now worth £2.2 billion, growing 6% in 2017.

The market has had six years of steady growth, with organic accounting for 1.5% of the total UK food and drink market.

In 2017, the amount of farmland in conversion to organic rose 22% as farmers responded to the rise in demand for organic produce

And with payment windows now open for Countryside Stewardship in England and the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme in Scotland, the amount of farmland being converted to organic is expected to keep rising, particularly in light of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan which calls for agriculture that supports the natural environment.

Key trends highlighted in the report include:

  • Supermarket sales of organic grew by 4.2% in 2017
  • Independent retailers increased sales of organic by 9.7%, and sales for home delivery, including box schemes, grew by 9.5%
  • Sales in foodservice (which includes catering and restaurants) grew by 10.2%
  • Dairy sales increased by 3.1%, and still have the highest share of the organic food and drink market at nearly 29%
  • Sales of meat, fish and poultry grew by 4.1%
  • Fresh produce, up 6.5%, had the highest value growth, equating to over £20m in sales

Millennials are now said to be the biggest customer group

Adam Wakeley of Organic Farm Foods said: “Organic fruit has been a star performer over the past year, and we’ve certainly seen all of fresh organic produce grow. One reason is down to an evolving consumer profile – millennials are now our biggest customer group, and they show a huge interest in food provenance and health. They understand that having food grown in an environmentally friendly way is a good thing. We believe their attitude is here to stay and will continue to drive growth in the future.”

This year has seen booming sales in independent retail and home delivery. Expanding online ranges and growing interest in box schemes, means that these areas are now growing at a faster rate than supermarket sales and between them account for almost 30% of the organic market.  Logo: http://www.organiccentrewales.org.uk/

For some farmers these alternative routes to market, coupled with the increased consumer interest in food provenance, have been crucial to their success.

A press release on 15 March 2018 records that the English Organic Forum has written to Environment Secretary of State Michael Gove as he prepared to address the Prosperity UK Green Brexit Conference in London on Thursday 15th March.

The English Organic Forum represents organic organisations and businesses including: Abacus Agriculture Ltd.; Biodynamic Association; EcoS Consultancy; Future Sustainability; Garden Organic; Institute of Organic Training and Advice; Land Workers’ Alliance; Organic Arable; Organic Farmers and Growers CIC; Organic Food Federation; Organic Growers Alliance; Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative; Organic Research Centre; Organic Trade Board; Soil Association; Triodos Bank; SA Cert Ltd.; UK Organic Certifiers Group.

Header from:   http://www.sopa.org.uk/

The English Organic Forum letter emphasises that the UK is lagging behind its major European competitors in the development of organic food and farming. It sets out why stronger support for organic farming would be a significant opportunity to deliver both economic and environmental benefits, consistent with government policy aspirations.

Nic Lampkin, chair of the forum and director of the Organic Research Centre, says: “The UK needs to up its game and focus more on organic food and farming if it is to reach its ambition for a new agricultural policy that delivers public goods as well as economic benefits. Organic food and farming is closely aligned to the Government’s key aspiration of a ‘Green Brexit’. We would like to have seen more focus on organic, with all its benefits, in the consultation proposals on future food and farming policy.”

Adrian Blackshaw, chair of the Organic Trade Board says: “Many EU countries have seen 20% market growth rates in recent years, with market shares approaching 10% of food sales. Clearly we have some catching up to do just to satisfy growing consumer demand.” Organic farming accounts for 6.7% of farmland under production in the EU (UK 3%). Italy, Sweden and Austria are between 15-20%. President Macron has declared a target of 22% of French farmland to be organic by 2022 and the German government coalition agreement includes a target of 20% of German agriculture to be organic by 2030.

Roger Kerr, CEO of Organic Farmers and Growers, was surprised that organic wasn’t more widely identified in the consultation documents. Organic production is backed up by a legal regulation with annual inspections, certification and verification. With this robust approach Defra can have confidence in organic food and farming delivering both economic benefits and public goods for all.”

The 2017 Out to Lunch report found that organic food had doubled on the high street, with twelve out of the twenty-five restaurant chains surveyed using organic ingredients – up from six in the previous report.

Helen Browning, Soil Association chief executive, said: “Trust is something that’s increasingly important: people want to understand where their food has come from, how it has been produced, and more and more shoppers want to buy local and British. The customer is increasingly interested in the provenance and traceability of their food, and this is an area organic can really deliver on . . . And the growing recognition of organic food and drink in restaurants and cafes creates opportunities for organic farmers to access new markets here at home.”

 

 

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France has announced that at least half of all food bought by the public sector must be organic or locally produced

In February, as sales of organic food continue to rise in France and are reachingrecord levels’ in England, the French Agricultural Minister Stéphane Travert announced the new rules as part of measures to boost the French farming sector, and to improve diets.

Travert (left) said that as France is showing, public procurement can be a “powerful tool” for supporting local and organic farmers and can make an “important contribution” towards improved public health. Public procurement approaches will also support SME producers to gain access to markets, in line with the commitments made in the Industrial Strategy.

The Soil Association’s Policy and Campaigns Manager Rob Percival (right) said the initiative highlights the “power of public procurement” to support better farming practices and improve diets.

He continued: “More ambitious action from Government could further stimulate demand for British, local, and higher quality produce. Michael Gove already has the tools he needs at his fingertips. He must move now to implement DEFRA’s Balanced Scorecard approach across the whole public sector including education and health, while requiring public procurement decisions to place a weighting of at least 60% on quality relative to cost.”

“Gove must seize the opportunity presented by Brexit to implement a procurement policy at least as ambitious as his French counterpart,” Mr Percival added.

 

 

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In the dark? Could there be a ‘bespoke’ agricultural policy after Brexit

MP for Stroud, David Drew, Shadow Farming and Rural Affairs Minister, retweeted a link to a Farmers Weekly article,Devolved regions left in dark about plans to take farming out of transition agreement’.

Scottish Office Minister Ian Duncan has suggested that the UK will have its own agricultural policy in March 2019. He said: “We believe taking UK farming out of the CAP during transition is the right thing to do. As farmers you will be better off”.

Professor Dieter Helm, chair of the Natural Capital Committee, is advising the Department lor Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on British agricultural policy (BAP) post-Brexit. He says the EU’s principle of paying farmers for the area of land they farm under the basic payment scheme (BPS) should go and asserts that the BPS does not actually affect food production.

But UK farmers subsidise the low (and unjust) prices received for the food they produce with the BPS payments, which average about £25,000 a year per farm according to an article in the Private Eye, issue 1456, which refers to figures from DEFRA’s Farm Business Income Survey :

For 2016-17, the average cereal farm is forecast to make a profit of £38,000 and the average lowland livestock farm £19,000, though the survey also noted that over 20% of cereal, dairy, lowland grazing livestock, mixed and poultry farms failed to make a profit in 2016/17. Without the BPS, most farms would have traded at a loss.

But the DEFRA survey’s figures were said to include BPS receipts and exclude farmers’ wages or personal drawings.

A 2016 LEI study for the NFU concluded that all UK regions would show, on average, a decline in farm incomes if the UK government fully abolished the direct payments. The UK trade liberalisation scenario would show the most significant changes; farm incomes would decline in all regions, except for the East of England where half of the UK horticultural farms are located, as they do not receive single farm payments (now superseded by BPS since Jan 2015) for fruit, vegetables and table potatoes.

How will UK farmers be protected from subsidised food exports from EU farmers who still enjoy BPS payments?

The column in Private Eye (1443) pointed out that given targetted production subsidies Brexit presents a real opportunity to introduce a bespoke British agricultural policy. A British agricultural policy (BAP) could:

  • encourage more mixed patterns of farming,
  • discourage industrial livestock production and
  • reverse the increasing imbalance in Britain’s trade in food.

To this end, DEFRA is urged to seek advice from other quarters – Professor Tim Lang comes first to mind.

 

 

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More land is growing crops free from genetic modification and synthetic pesticides

Lancashire organic farmer, Tom Rigby (right) draws attention to news that In England, DEFRA data shows a 47.2% increase in land in organic conversion.

Latest government figures on UK organic food production show the sector is continuing to thrive on the back of strong organic food sales, says organic licensing body OF&G.

DEFRA’s organic farming statistics show that while the amount of organic land fell by 3.6% in 2016, the amount of UK farmland in organic conversion rose by more than 22% – rising to 47.2% in England. Their organic farming figures are available here.

Permanent pasture continues to account for the biggest share of the country’s organic area. The number of organic cattle increased on the previous year, while organic pig numbers rose by 5% and organic poultry numbers have shown the largest increase, rising by 10% to just over 2.8m birds

Roger Kerr, chief executive of the largest organic farming certifier OF&G (below right), said:

“The amount of land in organic conversion shows that farmers are recognising the huge potential from the sector to make a profit from farming organically.

“Industry figures show that the UK’s organic food sector is the only food sector showing consistent growth, with increases of between 7 and 10% reported this year. And with demand for organic products in the UK and globally predicted to grow again this year, we know UK farmers, growers and processors are attracted to organic production”.

Mr Kerr ends: “As demand increases for quality food, more support is needed to ensure UK production increases, and organic is pointing the way forward. We need more domestic production to feed the growing demand for quality food and organic has a critical part to play in that.”

 

 

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Butter price rise: falling milk production, rising demand, adverse weather, liberalisation – low prices are still the elephant in the room

As salaried workers in the commercial media, futures markets and organisations including the NFU, AHDB, DEFRA, DairyUK and RABDF pontificate about the situation, it is good to see that the ignored elephant in the room is slipping in to the columns of the Financial Times.

Emiko Terazono, commodities correspondent, reports that many dairy farms in Europe and Brazil have endured years of ‘sluggish’ (aka low) dairy prices and quotes Kevin Bellamy (Rabobank): “Many dairy farms in Europe and Brazil are suffering from a shortage of young cows to bring into the herd after the years of sluggish dairy prices. Because of the period of prolonged low prices the young stock aren’t there”.

She refers to the EU’s move to liberalise its dairy market in 2015, lifting restrictions on production and exports, which caused prices for fall by more than half between 2014 and 2015, with many dairy farmers around the world going out of business or struggling under increased debts. The EU then responded by introducing voluntary output cuts and compensated farmers for not producing milk. World milk supplies from leading five producer regions slipped 0.4% in 2016.

January protests outside the EU Council building covered here. Above, see the European Milk Board’s Faironika, the artificial cow canvassing for fair payment for dairy farmers and explaining the nutritional value of milk, the role of farmers and their value to the rural economy

During the protests in January, Sieta van Keimpema, dairy farmer and vice-president of the European Milk Board, the lobby group representing the region’s producers, “Milk producers all over Europe are still in the throes of the crisis . . . and although the milk price has rebounded from last year’s lows, it is still lower than the cost of production”.

 

 

 

Hats off to DEFRA if they continue to ‘reboot’ farm policy in favour of small family farms

private-eye-logo“Not only do small family farms (defined as covering less than 250 acres and requiring the labour of one or two people) employ more people per acre and provide a wider variety of locally produced food than larger farms, but there is increasing evidence that they are less damaging to the environment.”

This passage in the latest Private Eye (1429) mentioned research findings published in a new state funded study carried out in the Netherlands and an online search added detail from the FT.

lidwien_smitDr Lidwien Smit, an environmental epidemiologist at Utrecht University, found that the biggest contribution to deaths linked with air pollution in Europe comes from agriculture, as risky to breathe as that in a traffic congested city.

She recommends that intensive farms in particular should be subjected to the same strict pollution rules as other industries.

In September, the study was presented to the European Respiratory Society’s international congress in London. Professor Stephen Holgate, the society’s science council chair said that the findings underline the need for governments to take tougher action on farm pollution: “It raises a very important issue; there needs to be much better monitoring of intensive farming’s pollution plumes that spread out across the neighbourhood”.

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Private Eye reports that DEFRA is to use part of a £16m EU emergency dairy aid fund to help farmers ‘hit’ by very low milk prices to encourage grass-based farming systems.

The NFU, whose ‘lobby’ is often said to be dominated by large farmers that pay the biggest subscriptions) has, however, made ‘counter proposals’.

The farmer who writes for Private Eye, hopes – as we do – that DEFRA will ‘stick to its guns’ and also that all the UK’s regional governments and national assemblies will go on to make discrimination in favour of small-scale family farms central to farm policy in post-Brexit Britain.

Labour MEPs call for action to ensure UK dairy farmers get a fair deal

jude and paul mep farrnersIn February, Labour MEPs called for the EU, UK government and consumers to act to ensure North East farmers get a fair deal.

The price of milk in UK supermarkets has fallen to levels which are unsustainable for UK dairy farmers, with prices dropping from £1.39 to just 89p. See DEFRA’s Forecasts of Farm Business Income by type of farm in England – 2014/15.

The NFU suggests that this is leading farmers to leave the industry with around 60 having left in December alone. Milk in supermarkets in the UK can now be cheaper than water and the price can be below the cost of production. In response MPs have called for an EU-wide review of milk prices.

Paul Brannen, MEP (above with North East MEP Jude Kirton-Darling) for the North East and Labour’s European Parliament spokesperson on agriculture and rural development, said:

“It is simply not fair for a dairy farmer to be paid less for a litre of milk than it costs to produce. We must collectively and speedily inject fairness into the relationship between dairy farmers, processors, supermarkets and, importantly, customers . . .

“We also want the UK government to write to the banks encouraging them to be as supportive as possible of dairy farmers during this difficult period, including making loans available.

“And in the longer term we want to see farmers working together more, in order to increase their clout in the market and move themselves up the supply chain, by investing in food processing and the production and marketing of processed products such as cheese and yoghurt, as this is where the money can be made . . .

“We are calling on the British consumer to ask probing questions of their supermarket manager, as they have done in the past about fairly traded products from the developing world, to find out if a fair price has been paid to the farmer for the milk we buy.”

Paul adds: “We want to see more powers given to the Groceries Code Adjudicator, whose role it is to ensure there is fair play between British food processors and retailers, so she can take action across the supply chain.