More than 10% of organic farmers say their businesses are failing and nearly two thirds rate their viability as borderline. Many of them doubt that they will be farming organically by 2010.
According to a survey by organic certification body Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G), the premium prices paid for organic products do not translate into profitability for most farmers. Least optimistic was the dairy sector, whose farmers were most likely to leave organics following the end of many five-year conversion grants next year and four years of over-supply.
There was doubt about investment in product development and in co-operatives. "Many farmers seem to feel that they are not getting a good return for their efforts but are unsure about where the answer lies," said Richard Thompson, chairman of OF&G. "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?"
Farmers did, however, welcome increased public sector procurement by institutions such as schools and hospitals, encouraged under the Organic Action Plan launched two years ago by the government. The plan will address obstacles such as price and availability.
The Soil Association, which has secured funding for a school meals policy advisor to encourage schools to source local organic food, said the sector continues to flourish. "The proportion of UK-produced organic food is up and UK demand and supply continues to grow," said the policy director Peter Melchett.
The action plan said that UK farmers and growers were on target to take a 70% share of the organic food market by 2010. UK sourcing rose from 30% to 44% in 2003.