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
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