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Market Review of the Welsh Organic Horticulture Sector, 2007

Hitchings, Roger (2007) Market Review of the Welsh Organic Horticulture Sector, 2007. Organic Centre Wales, Organic Research Centre Elm Farm, HDRA, ADAS, Institute of Rural Sciences, University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

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Summary

The supply situation for Welsh organic horticultural products
Organic production in Wales has been developing steadily in the last five years, with particular emphasis on organic cattle and sheep production. This was despite over-supply conditions in some sectors, notably dairy, following the very rapid growth in 1999/2000. Looking further back there was a time when horticultural production represented a considerable proportion of Welsh organic output and played a significant role in the development of the organic market as a whole.
Between the end of 2002 and end of 2005, the number of holdings increased by 12% to 688, and the certified land area increased by 29% to 71 thousand hectares, of which more than 90% is grassland. Growth in Wales has exceeded other parts of the UK, reaching 5% of agricultural land by end 2005. More rapid growth is projected for 2006 and possibly 2007. There is however little evidence that this is mirrored in the horticulture sector -if anything there has been a reduction in the horticultural production area. The latest Defra statistics show that there has been a decline in organically managed horticultural land in Wales from 722 hectares in 2003 to 649 hectares in 2005.
Actual output of Welsh fruit and vegetables is more difficult to quantify reflecting a continuing need for improved statistical data to support market development and the delivery of public policy. Better data is available for the UK as a whole but a significant effort will be needed to dis-aggregate the output data for Wales. The UK data show the overall organic market increasing to £1.6bn in 2005 and the organic vegetable market increasing at a faster rate despite falling back in absolute terms. UK organic horticultural land is increasing but not at the same rate as the market. It is predicted that UK self sufficiency (which has increased to 62% over the last four to five years will fall away as imports increase to fill the widening gap between UK production and UK consumption.
Organic farm gate prices for fruit and vegetables have been under continuing downward pressure over the last five years and this fact has been cited as one of the contributory facts behind the relative lack of horticultural land coming into conversion. These pressures do not necessarily bear directly on the localised marketing that is common among Welsh organic producers but supermarket prices do provide
something of a benchmark for such operations. There is evidence of significant price increases in the conventional sector following last summer’s heat wave but it remains to be seen if these are reflected in the organic sector.
The original market intelligence report published in 2004 provided a useful starting point for this review. The majority of producers who has seen it found it useful but they were a relatively small number of those that were asked. A number of extremely useful and pertinent recommendations were made and these will be reviewed in the conclusions to this report i.e. to what extent were they taken up?
A grower survey was undertaken using a detailed telephone questionnaire and a 56% response achieved from a list of 110 producers. Highlights included the fact that the 62 respondents represented some 83 hectares of horticultural output, a figure that is at odds with the Defra statistics even when allowances are made for non-respondents. 75% of respondents were marketing locally in one form or another while labour issues were seen as the most common restraint. Growers felt that the market was expanding and many were confident abut the future though a significant number had given up or were giving up for reasons of age, health, etc. In terms of market information there was a strong response for price information and also market trends.
This was followed by a trade survey that included box schemes, small retail outlets and wholesalers. All those questioned were unanimous that demand for organic produce in general and Welsh organic produce in particular is running at unprecedented levels. Traders are finding it extremely difficult to source the produce they need from Wales and are therefore importing it from countries such as France and Holland. A significant proportion (up to 60%) of this produce could be grown in Wales. Difficulties cited included lack of support payments, low profitability, certification fees, a reluctance on the part of growers to expand, and the increasing age of the present grower base.
It is possible to use these responses and set them alongside the wider data to generate a market assessment for organic fruit and vegetables in Wales. Using the assumptions of the earlier market intelligence report we can arrive at an estimate of the potential market for organic fruit and vegetables in Wales of £32.3m across all outlets. Organic Monitor reports a sharp increase in demand for fruit and vegetables in 2006. Set against this is the progressive reduction in both real and relative terms of the Welsh production base for organic horticultural produce. It is difficult to produce an estimate but it is unlikely to exceed the estimate in the earlier report of £1.3m. What is clear is that the gap between production and demand is widening at a rapid rate. It is possible to generate profits through the growing of organic horticultural crops but a rigorous financial analysis is essential before embarking on such a course.
SWOT analyses from earlier reports are discussed and placed in the present day context. Familiar issues of unsuitable infrastructure, topography, isolation, lack of cooperation, availability of labour and poor returns feature both then and now. There are a number of opportunities arising from the developing, public procurement and consumer support for Welsh produce. The major issue is however the threat to the existing grower base and an inability to address the many opportunities because of a lack of new entrants.
Recommendations
Despite the generally positive outlook from a demand perspective, there is a need to address some of the factors that might discourage producers from converting, including disruption to the Organic Farming Scheme, price levels that do not always reflect the costs of production, access to markets and a distinct lack of support for the sector.
To address this, there is a need for:
• better statistical data on current and future production levels and market shares;
• consideration should be given to the development of an organic price exchange service possibly in conjunction with other agencies and organisations
• continued efforts to support producer groups in developing markets for organic fruit and vegetables and in seeking to achieve realistic prices;
• wider publicity of the potential demand and market opportunities for organic horticultural produce through a series of events, articles and other media coverage;
• the re-vamping of and wider publicity for the present Organic Market Wales as a contribution to the wider publicity effort;
• enhanced payments through the OFS;
• a distinct arm of the Farming Connect service that addresses the needs of horticultural producers;
• more linked planning of events with other development centres, companies, organisations, etc.
• an increasing focus on education in order to signpost opportunities for young people;
• a linking mechanism for putting new entrants to the sector in touch with land owners interested in renting land, share-farming and share-cropping;
• improved production systems, supported by effective research and development and knowledge transfer;
• a key area for development is the encouragement of protected cropping systems along with a sympathetic approach from planning authorities
• a clear identification of suitable areas for both conventional and organic horticultural production along with guidance on how to deal with the particular soil types and prevailing climate
• improved integration of effort between organic sector businesses and the agencies that support the development of the Welsh horticultural and organic sectors;
• joint working arrangements with Organic Centre Wales, Horticulture Network Wales, Centre for Alternative Land Use, Welsh College of Horticulture, machinery rings and others – this could lead to a virtual centre where growers could access:
o market intelligence information
o land availability
o machinery and machinery ring contacts
o information on labour and available skills
o technical information and advice
• better linkage with the dairy, arable and red meat sectors to benefit from complementarity relationships between the sectors at production, market development and promotional levels.


EPrint Type:Report
Keywords:market; horticulture
Subjects: Food systems > Markets and trade
Crop husbandry > Production systems > Vegetables
Crop husbandry > Production systems > Fruit and berries
Research affiliation: UK > Garden Organic (HDRA)
UK > Organic Research Centre (ORC) - Elm Farm
UK > Univ. Aberystwyth > Organic Centre Wales (OCW)
UK > ADAS
Deposited By: Powell, Ms Jane
ID Code:11071
Deposited On:31 Jul 2007
Last Modified:12 Apr 2010 07:35
Document Language:English
Status:Published
Refereed:Not peer-reviewed

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