The Defra ‘Action Plan to Develop Organic Food and Farming in England’ identifies cereals as the organic commodity farthest from meeting demand from UK production. The project quantified the extent and nature of this deficit and collected information on constraints from research projects and reviews, from advisers & farmers and from cereal buyers & end users. The obstacles to increased organic cereal production were identified and suggestions made on what Defra and the industry could do to help overcome them. \ud \ud The study focused on England but, as the main buyers of cereals operate across the UK, the supply and demand modelling was of necessity done on that basis. As identified by the Defra Organic Action Plan and by the Scotland and Wales plans, there is a lack of collated and reliable data on organic and in-conversion crop areas across the UK. Our calculations are based on best estimates, where possible confirmed from more than one source. \ud There is a very limited scope for an increase in total grain production from existing organic farms due to rotational limitations. \ud \ud It is clear from consultations with grain buyers that their overwhelming requirement is for wheat for breadmaking and animal feed. Triticale and barley will continue to be difficult to sell to the feed compounders. There may be some scope for changing the balance of cereal species grown on existing organic farms. However, this is likely to be limited by constraints of location and soil type as the majority of the organic land in England, and in the UK, is on soils unsuited to wheat production. It may be more productive to seek direct sale to other farmers for these grains.\ud \ud The fragmented nature of supply with many farms selling small quantities of grain makes sourcing supply of consistent quality difficult for the large purchasers. Co-operation, with regional cleaning and storage facilities, has been suggested by many as a way to more effectively compete with imports. Work in this area has been started by Organic Grain LINK with Defra support under the ERDP.\ud \ud Our consultations show that the dominant constraints to further conversion to organic methods are concerns about marketing and profitability. These concerns are not specific to cereals which have remained relatively profitable, but are more related to falling prices for other products such as potatoes, and some vegetables. These potentially high gross-margin crops are the key to farm profitability in stockless arable systems where they balance the high levels of set-aside employed. With slowing retail growth and still more land coming through conversion, this situation is unlikely to improve in the short term.\ud \ud Although technical constraints are not dominant in decisions of conversion, they are limiting yield and quality of organic cereals and hence also the saleability and value of the grain. A better understanding of N availability should come from Defra project OF0316 but further work on agronomy and grain quality is necessary.\ud We recommend action in four areas, in line with priorities 2, 4 and 5 in the Defra Action Plan:\ud \ud 1. The most critical constraint on the development of the UK organic cereal supply is economic viability, particularly in the context of a 2-3 year lag between starting conversion and marketing organic produce. It is recommended that the new support system (under ELS) should be devised to deliver long-term environmental benefits (through ongoing payments) while minimising short-term market distortions (through conversion support). A higher level of annual payment than the modified OFS is needed, as £30/ha is unlikely to provide sufficient incentive for further substantial conversion of arable farms. \ud \ud 2. The availability of good data on supply and demand, by species, is needed. This would give buyers and sellers more confidence and help farmers plan rotations to better meet market demand. This shortcoming was identified in the Defra Organic Action Plan and action is underway. \ud \ud 3. Co-operation between organic cereal producers should be encouraged to allow better cleaning & storage, and bulking to create larger quantities for sale. The Organic Grain Link initiative is helping publicise the availability of support from ERDP for marketing and facilities and could be a model for wider application.\ud \ud 4. Whilst not the primary constraint to increase in cereal production, technical issues are limiting the yield and quality of grain, farm profitability, adding cost to the supply chain, and making produce less competitive with imports. Direct issues include improving breadmaking quality and a better understanding of the interactions of seed rate, sowing date and row width. There are also issues affecting organic livestock production that will impact on demand for cereals. These include the ending of the derogations on feeding synthetic amino acids, non-organic feed inclusion and pullet rearing. These will all add substantially to livestock production costs and are likely to require further research to find innovative technical and management solutions to maintain and expand these sectors and their associated demands for cereals. Defra funding may be necessary to make immediate progress on these issues in view of the current stop on new projects by the HGCA.\ud \ud \ud Future changes in supply and demand for organic cereals will be influenced by a range of complex and interacting factors which make precise predictions of the likely impacts of these actions impossible. However, together they should help maintain current organic cereal production and create the best environment for the industry to respond to future market needs
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