Downward price pressures are threatening the viability of organic vegetable production in the UK, according to a Defra-funded study.
The report, by the Henry Doubleday Research Association, says that availability, continuity and UK self-sufficiency are under threat.
Insufficient domestic supply is looming, and while market growth is likely to continue, there is a decreasing area of land in conversion.
The industry must work together to achieve improvements in market information to enable timely responses to meet
changes in supply and demand, say the researchers. Regular price analysis of the supply chain will be essential, as will be identifying sustainable chains that have good practices.
Consumers also need more information, delivered through labelling, of the health, social and environmental benefits of organic and local food. This work is vital if the English Organic Action Plan target of 70% of organic products sourced from the UK by 2010 is to be met. It is currently 64%.
Researcher Natalie Green said: “Price pressures were most severe in the supermarket supply chain.
“There was much competition between supermarkets but also from conventional vegetables produced locally and using environmentally friendly methods. There was a shift away from trading with supermarkets and towards more direct sales, up 30%, and a reduced reliance on the multiples by consumers, prepackers and wholesalers.”
Imports put pressure on UK crops but HDRA’s Supermarket Watch programme discovered that imported vegetables were sold more expensively. Rising fuel costs are likely to make things hard for organic growers, but marketers could capitalise on growth in foodservice and convenience markets.
is estimated at 250,000 tonnes in a full year, provided these sensitive crops are not affected by weather damage. UK market share is valued at about £5m annually and is growing.
Kit Davies