Thursday, September 21, 2006

Organic growth calls.

Farming for wonks

South Shields MP and Environment Secretary David Miliband recently met with representatives from The Soil Association in which they impressed upon him the benefits of organic farming. They calculate that organic methods create 32% more jobs in rural economies, that organic methods help reduce global warming, is less polluting, and will encourage more younger happier people to take up an agricultural life!
Knowing one young man from South Shields, and some from without, who tried to make a success of farming I can counter that achieving this pipe dream is not quite so easy, it is highly unlikely that young people of the future will be able to afford to acquire land to farm for starters, and achieving sufficient economies of scale to produce viable profits is the next major hurdle. Some who have tried the organic methods have ended up losing staff, running their farms as husband and wife teams, and taken a second part-time non farming job to make ends meet.

The major stumbling block for these people, of course, is persuading the major buyers to take their products. The supply of groceriespicture of carrots for the British consumer is heavily controlled by the buying offices of Tesco and Asda and the other supermarkets. Just take a shopping trip to your local Asda in Ocean Road, South Shields (or the larger one in Boldon Colliery), or the Tesco Branch on Newcastle Road, and you will find that you need to search quite earnestly to find the rather small range of organically farmed products. Once you have found them you will wince at the prices being asked (probably the extra 32% on prices reflects the extra 32% jobs and production costs.) So, unless you are well heeled, you will pass up on the opportunity and buy the mass produced chemically laden products from the giant farms of Britain and Europe.

David Miliband has also had recent meetings with the top executives of the major supermarkets where he tried to knock their heads together and get them to do something about the damage to the environment that their buying policies produce. He would like to see a massive reduction in "product miles" by achieving more local sourcing, he would like to see a massive reduction in packaging, or at least a move towards recyclable packaging. Unfortunately, as David admits, 60% of carbon emissions in the travel cycle come from cars, not delivery lorries, yet our planners put more and more supermarkets on the edge of towns or on out of town retal centres!

Surely the message must be, more local sourcing, and more local supermarkets in town centres (as we will shortly see in South Shields), the supermarkets and growers must also be prepared to accept a smaller margin on organic products if they wish to encourage the consumer to purchase.

Meanwhile, Mr Miliband re-emphasised his farming vision at the TUC Congress last week:
He said:

"Our challenge is one planet living. One planet environmentally secure, socially just, economically prosperous, not just for some people but for all people."

I think I know what you mean David, but any chances of achieving organic growth in your political career are being hindered by your outstanding ability to gush forth with "wonk speak!" Most of us speak plain old Geordie and we daen't like the price of scruffy carrots.


Shields Gazette

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