Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter to Rt. Hon. Michael Jack MP from Mr Ian Sayer (F60)

  We are greenhouse growers based in East Yorkshire. We are one year into the process of converting half of one nursery to organic production. We are probably in a unique position to comment on the problems of conversion as the nursery consists of one five acre greenhouse block growing cherry tomatoes, now split in two. We have the same staff, the same manager, the same environmental computer, heating system etc. etc. so can very accurately calculate the difference in the economics of the two systems.

  Although not at the end of this season yet we must make decisions about next years programme soon.

  Whatever may be said, supermarkets will not pay us more money to help with the conversion period. Therefore we must accept two years of reduced production with no premium prices before the produce can be classed as organic.

  The best estimate now is a reduction in yield of 30,000 kilos per acre (95,000 in the conventional half, 65,000 in the organic half).

  At £1.10 per kilo net of picking and packing costs this amounts to £33,000 per acre or in our case £33,000 x 2.5 acres or £82,500. We are a small family business and cannot afford this.

  If you visit any of the major supermarkets and look in the organic fresh produce department you will find the produce is mainly grown in Holland at this time of the year, and approved by the Soil Association. The produce generally has a premium of 40 maybe 50 per cent. It would be viable for us to continue growing with that premium. In Holland the conversion period is effectively 6 months.

  Next year we must decide whether to close half the nursery or revert to conventional growing. Closing half the nursery will result in four or five full time job losses (including the managers) and perhaps 10 seasonal pickers and packers. Whatever we do the Dutch will have the market for organic produce and they will be making good profits. Once they have that market, they will not give it up.

  It is obviously extremely unfair, and as far as the soil association goes, I do not see how it can be legal to place a stamp of approval on produce from Holland yet refuse it on produce grown to the same standards in the UK.

  A possible option for us:

  Permit us to invest in a closed system of raised troughs allowing us to grow in rockwool for the next 12 months.

  Apart from the growing medium and fertiliser the crop would be grown organically.

  The excess irrigation feed would not come into contact with the soil, thus retaining it's organic integrity.

  We could undersow with a fertility building crop.

  If there is any possibility of this being allowed we need to know very soon. Apart from the loss so far of £82,500 it puts us back on a level playing field with the Dutch, but in six months time it will be too late.

29 September 2000

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