Organic food production offers a real opportunity for Scottish farmers, cabinet secretary for rural affairs Richard Lochhead, said yesterday.
Demand for organic beef, lamb, milk, oats, potatoes, carrots and other vegetables is outstripping available supplies, Lochhead said during a visit to an organic farm in his Moray constituency.
He was speaking at the launch of the Scottish Organic Forum’s updated organic action plan for 2013-15 at Pitgaveny Farm, Elgin.
“We consume more organic food in Scotland than we produce so there is a real window of opportunity for producers,” said Lochhead. “The most recent market research indicates that the market in Scotland has grown in the first quarter of this year by 3.2 per cent a year to £12.4 million which compares with a decline of 0.5 per cent in the rest of the UK.
“Consumers are keen to source organic produce not only because of its taste and provenance but also because of the contribution organic production makes to biodiversity and wildlife. The horsemeat scandal has triggered increased interest in the provenance of food.”
He pledged continued Scottish Government support to encourage organic production and would ensure that the “relevant instruments” were included in the new Scotland rural development programme, currently under discussion.
New elements in the action plan, launched two years ago, include continued professional development for organic farmers through the monitor farm programme, the promotion of collaborative initiatives with the supply chain, the identification of potential export markets and new product development.
Sales of organic produce suffered a slump in demand at the start of the economic crisis in 2008 when hard-pressed consumers were reluctant to pay the premium which producers need to cover increased production costs. A number of producers gave up and returned to conventional farming.
But the market has recovered and organic beef cattle, for example, are commanding a premium of £1 per kg deadweight with ex-farm prices hitting £5.10 per kg compared with around £4.10 per kg for conventionally produced cattle.
“The premium for organic produce is there and margins are good,” said forum chairman, Richard Huxtable, organic specialist with SRUC (Scotland’s rural college). “There is room for expansion and we would like to see existing producers and growers increase output.”
In the past, some producers have taken advantage of grants to convert to organic production but have reverted to conventional farming when the grants run out.
Pitgaveny Farm hosted an open day for 2,000 visitors on Sunday, as part of the national Open Farm Sunday programme, and 200 secondary school children visited the farm yesterday to learn about organic farming.
A total of 800 acres – 25 per cent of the farming operation – is devoted to organic production, including carrots, potatoes, oats, beef and lamb.
“The public are really interested in how their food is produced and our aim is to give them information about organic farming so they can make an informed decision about whether or not to buy organic produce,” said farm manager Martin Birse.