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22.12.05
Organic conversion boom predicted

The growth in the organic food market as reported by Mintel (22 December) is reflected in the huge growth of farmland going into organic conversion in Cornwall over the last twelve months.

Organic South West says that 1,800 hectares were registered in Cornwall during this period, an 18 per cent increase on the 10,000 hectares already certified. This unprecedented boom reflects the growing interest by farmers in supplying the UK's fastest growing food market.

Martin Davies, technical adviser for Organic South West, which promotes organic food and farming in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, says: "We held a conversion conference in November in conjunction with the Duchy College's Organic Study Centre that was attended by 60 producers, our largest yet and I know that many went away determined to start the conversion process. Public demand for organic food grew by ten per cent in 2004, at a time when other retail sales remained stagnant and there is still a massive shortfall in UK grown produce."

The south west of England has the largest number of organic farmers in England, with the highest concentration in Cornwall and Devon. Temperate climate conditions and the diversity of landscape offer plenty of potential for producing a wide variety of crops and livestock plus a local market with a significant number of established processors and marketing outlets in the region.

Norman Pendray farms 140 acres near Lostwithiel and is 15 months into organic conversion. Originally a dairy farmer for 30 years, Mr Pendray changed to beef and arable when milk prices plummeted seven years ago but made the decision to go organic shortly afterwards. "I was given the chance to buy a 'closed' organic suckler herd and jumped at it," he said. "It seemed the most natural way forward with all the changes to subsidies and SFP coming in and I'd always wanted to go organic but it seemed too big a change. The dramatic rise in the cost of fertilisers and sprays was the final straw and reinforced my belief that the economics of conventional farming don't add up any more so I had to change or get out of farming altogether.

"In fact the conversion has been very straightforward as our own rotations fitted in perfectly with organic requirements and I'm delighted with the quality and health of my livestock. I see my neighbours looking over the hedge to check up on progress and they've been surprised at how weed-free the grass has grown!"

Modern organic farming methods can produce excellent results as Martin Davis explains: "I meet many farmers who seem to think that going organic means turning the clock back 60 years but in fact, as Mr Pendray has found, with different techniques and modern machinery, production levels can be high and resource input low, so there is a good return on your labour especially if a local market can be found for the end product. Organic South West offers plenty of technical advice and practical support for anyone going into organic production so the learning curve is made a lot easier."

Martin Davies added: "Organic South West runs regular conversion and farm walk events throughout the year in Cornwall. Anyone wanting to find out more about converting to organic farming or food production should contact Organic South West on 01207 78988 or see our website: www.organicsouthwest.org."

Norman Pendray also stresses that the change to organic farming benefited his second income stream, holiday lets in a converted barn. "Tourism and organic farming go hand in hand," he said. "Our visitors show a genuine interest in what is happening on the farm and we've incorporated a farm walk to include ponds and woodland as well as telling them why organic farming is different. With the Eden project just down the road, the countryside and environment is high on our visitor's list of interests. Cornwall and its farmers could be leading the way and showing people what the future looks like and providing some great local food too!"

For further information please contact Emma Parkin, PR and Media on 01392 490009 or email: em.parkin@blueyonder.co.uk.

The Objective One Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has invested in Organic South West through the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF).

Anyone considering a new horticulture, food and land based industries project is advised to speak with Maria Ford, at Government Office South West on 01752 635015 before commencing development as there are now only limited funds available due to the successful uptake of funding by the agricultural sector in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

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Editor's notes:

1. A report on organics from market researchers Mintel forecasts that the market will almost double again by 2010, from £1.2bn to more than £2bn. Concerns about chemicals in food combined and a trend for ethical and local products have led to organic sales almost doubling in the past five years.
2. Statistics from Soil Association 'Organic Market Report 2005', published November 2005.
3. Mr Pendray's suckler herd is a Charolais/Simmental crossed with South Devon bull.

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Clare Morgan
Media Relations Manager
Objective One Partnership Office
Castle House
Pydar Street
Truro TR1 2UD
Mobile: 07973 813647
Telephone: 01872 223439

cmorgan@cornwall.gov.uk

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