Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 15

Memorandum submitted by H P Bulmer Ltd (F 20)

PROBLEMS ENCOUNTERED IN THE CERTIFICATION OF ORGANIC CIDER ORCHARDS—THE 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 apple production.

  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 permitted pesticides.

  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 principles.

  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


 
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