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UK: Organic producers struggling with demand

An action plan is being drawn up for East Anglia because organic food supplies are struggling to meet demand. Annual sales of organic products have hit a record 2bn across the country, says a report out today from food watchdog the Soil Association. But its annual Organic Market Report says the amount of land under organic production in the East of England fell slightly, from 14,184 hectares to 14,014 hectares, bucking a national increase.

The association is due to publish an organic action plan for East Anglia next month. Sarah Dyke, its business development co-ordinator for East Anglia, said: `The key priority in the East of England is that there`s a huge demand for home-grown organic produce. `It`s very obvious that we`re not seeing the numbers of organic producers keeping up with the demand for organic produce.`

Earlier this year the association`s policy director, Peter Melchett, warned food industry leaders the days of industrial farming are numbered, as consumers switch to fresh, sustainable produce. In an interview with EDP Norfolk magazine this month Mr Melchett, who farms at Ringstead, near Hunstanton, warns: `If we don`t get more organic production in Norfolk, we`re going to lose out to other parts of the country.`

Nationally, the Organic Market Report says spending on organic food and drink increased by 22pc in 2006 compared to 2005, while vegetable boxes and other local supply schemes enjoyed the biggest year-on-year growth of 53pc to 146m.

Sales of free-range and organic eggs have also overtaken sales of eggs from caged birds for the first time, the report says, while total sales of organic goods rose to 1.9bn to make the UK the third-largest market in Europe after Germany and Italy.

`Between 2005 and 2006, the organic retail market in the UK increased by 22pc. However, it is important to note that this rate of growth is unlikely to be sustained in 2007 due to severe shortages in the supply of UK organic products,` the Soil Association warns.

And the price of organic goods is likely to rise to reflect the world-wide upturn in grain prices, according to Soil Association director of food and farming Helen Browning.

The number of organic producers in the UK as of January this year was up 7pc year-on-year to 4,639, which is around 1.6pc of all UK farms, says the association.

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