Memorandum submitted by H P Bulmer Ltd
PROBLEMS ENCOUNTERED IN THE CERTIFICATION
OF ORGANIC CIDER ORCHARDSTHE GROWER, 11 MAY 2000
H P Bulmer Ltd is an international cider maker and
long alcoholic drinks company, with its head office in Hereford.
Please find enclosed a separate information
sheet, giving details of the company and its involvement in cider
It was decided in 1999 to produce an organic
cider at the earliest opportunity, meeting the growing demand
for Organic products. Our company policy advocates the use, wherever
possible, of locally grown fresh apples. In January of this year
we approached our many larger-acreage growers who produce apples
from traditionally grazed "standard" orchards. Many
of these orchards are unsprayed, mature, and therefore ideal for
organic "conversion". These farmers already deliver
fruit to Bulmers under a 10 year supply contract, assuring them
a market for all their production. Our intention is to give them
an equivalent "Organic" supply contract, reflecting
the increased value and effort involved during and after conversion.
Their response was most encouraging; some 600
acres, with a potential annual crop of up to 6,000 tonnes, were
submitted, (subject to acceptable organic rules and fruit price).
The Soil Association was chosen to be our scheme's
organic regulating body. Our proposals and the potential size
of the scheme were well received.
Top fruit is recognised as one of the most difficult
categories of crop to produce organically. Existing growers, of
mainly dessert and culinary apples, are resolved to regularly
applying sulphur (one of the few permitted products) to control
disease. With fruit-appearance less important in cider apples,
we would expect most of our growers would not need to apply any
It is, however, the restrictions relating to
the grazing of non-organic stock which will prove their greatest
problem. Herefordshire and West Midlands are renowned for their
traditional cider orchards, with red and white Hereford cattle
often visible on the Tourist Route Blossom Trail. It is the ability
to graze throughout much of the year which sets "standards"
apart from the many acres of modern, more intensively planted,
bush orchards, and encourages diversity of wild life habitat and
flora. This tradition is part of these mixed farms' normal and
accepted pattern of rotation and good husbandry practice. Were
these animals certified "organic", I assume this tradition
would be encouraged. With many standard orchard growers in receipt
of Stewardship Scheme funds, it would be ironical if an organic
project, with its many shared objectives, were to diminish some
environmental benefits. This grazing limit by non-organic stock
is at present 240 days per annum when in conversion, and only
120 days when fully organic. An additional, and most serious imposition
depends on the number of such orchards on the holding. Should
a farmer be unfortunate enough to have three organic orchards,
then the 120 days would need to be shared among them; effectively
allowing each only six weeks per year. In practice, this could
mean that grazed orchards would change to become primarily mown
areas; completely at odds, one would think, with many organic
We have been advised that lobbying UKROFS with
alternatives to these regulations would be futile.
Having received support and publicity for our
scheme, it is important that it should not flounder on these points.
We feel it would be, by virtue of its potential size, of significant
benefit to agriculture in our area, to the Organic movement, and
of course, to Bulmers. I understand it could double the area of
top fruit in conversion in this country.
Other organic cider makers in our area have
indicated that these grazing restrictions will also have a serious
affect on their fruit procurement in the future.
We realise that new UKROFS rules, relating to
animal access in organic areas, will be announced during August,
and hope that any representation made on our behalf will ultimately
permit our scheme to continue.
Existing regulations might be quite appropriate
for very small farms on the continent. A typical Bulmer grower
might farm between 200-400 acres and such stipulations seem difficult
to justify when there are more lax areas within the organic rulebook.
Undeniably, one way forward is for growers to
register their whole enterprises as organic. This would of course
take considerable time and be impractical for many, given the
industry's present parlous state.
9 June 2000