Rise in demand for organic beef

ORGANIC beef sales are on the up in wake of the horse meat scandal and some supermarkets are looking to capitalise. Aly Balsom reports

WAITROSE is calling on producers to help overcome a shortfall in organic beef and meet a growing demand for organic produce.

The discovery of horse meat in some beef labelled brands in January is thought to have helped drive a 1.6 per cent year-on-year increase in general organic sales across all supermarkets for the first 12 weeks of the year. This is the first time the market has seen year-on-year growth since the recession hit in 2009.

Market share

With a 22 per cent market share for organic produce, Waitrose has always sought organic produce, which means current lack of beef supply, coupled with growing demand, has led the supermarket to actively seek more beef.

According to pre-packed beef buyer for Waitrose Rob Hues, although the supermarket may only have a 4.5 per cent share of the overall market, it maintains about a 21 per cent market share of organic meat.

“In the last 12 weeks, we have had a 17 per cent market share of fresh organic beef, but I’m keen to move this forward,” he said.

Sales of organic sirloin steak were one particular area for improvement, he said.

“This is our best selling line, but I could sell more if I had a few more beasts,” he told delegates at an organic beef event run by Waitrose, Dovecote Park and the Soil Association at Bradwell Grove Estate, Oxfordshire.

“We do have ambitious plans to grow organic beef sales,” he said.

However, to do so, the supermarket needs to up its current weekly kill by 20 per cent through its dedicated processor, Dovecote Park.

Mr Hues said Waitrose’s long-term commitment to organic should give existing and converting producers added confidence there was a market for their beef.

And with a premium of about £1/kg over the conventional beef price. and Waitrose aiming to pay towards the top of the organic market, there was a significant cost benefit.


In order to supply Waitrose via Dovecote Park, producers must be certified organic, be farm assured and keep finishers within six hours of the processing plant.

Although the two dedicated Dovecote plants are situated in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, the distribution of regional abattoirs should mean most producers in England, Wales and Scotland should be able to take advantage of the scheme.


Organic still more profitable despite blip in 2012

ORGANIC farms are an average of £59.90 per hectare (£24/acre) more profitable than similarly-run conventional farms, according to results from the Organic Farm Incomes Survey.

Results taken from the last six years show organic units across all systems have generally outperformed non-organic farms on profitability, dispelling the myth that organic is less profitable.

Martin Davies, head of farming for the Soil Association, said although last year may have looked poor in terms of profits on organic systems because of a poor harvest, it was important to look at long-term trends.

Long-term trend

Last year, organics were £59.50/ha (£24/acre) worse off. However, in general, organic farms were more resilient to external influences because they were not reliant on costly fertilisers, made better use of forage and had a reduced cost base, he said.

“When we look at beef and sheep units, they come out at +£21/ha over the six years compared to conventional, but with a negative blip of -£16/ha last year.”

Mr Davies said there was currently a real opportunity for beef producers to make the most of increased demand.  “At the moment there is a solid 20 per cent premium for organic beef. However, don’t get hung-up on the premiums,” he said.

Instead, he said farmers needed to look at the bottom line and reducing costs of production. Then, if the conventional price increased and the premium for organic decreased relatively, costs of production were under control and producers also had a dedicated market.

He stressed it was also important to listen to what the market wanted and meet the demand for forage-fed, native breeds that would finish off grass.


Farmer Vox Pops – Farmers give their views on the state of the organic market


“I’m glad I’ve remained committed to organic beef for the last 15 years. There is growing confidence in the sector which gives me confidence to increase overall production.”

James Taylor, North Aston Farms, Oxfordshire – 90 South Devon and Aberdeen Angus sucklers


“We’ve been organic for eight years. The cost of production is similar to conventional, so the premium makes a difference. There is a living to be made. Dovecote Park do a good job in providing competition for who I supply. Definitely having multiple processors and competition is good, especially when there’s a shortage like now.”

Ralph Messenger, Manor Farm, Galton, Dorset – 150 Aberdeen Angus and British Blue sucklers


“In the past I had to send cattle to Bedford for slaughtering as there was no other option down my way to get a reasonable price. But now we’ve got two organic slaughterhouses competing, which is positive for organic cattle. I’m feeling very positive. There’s a good price, good demand and I’m pleased to be organic.”

Richard Burston, Ashridge Farm, Crediton – 25 Red Ruby Devon sucklers


“The recession stopped the organic market in its tracks. The decline is coming to an end, but it needs people like Waitrose, who are committed, to ensure that happens.”

Charles Hunter Smart, Bradwell Grove Estate, Oxfordshire - 85 pedigree Limousins and 12 Aberdeen Angus sucklers

Readers' comments (3)

  • Keep up the good work. You are the sustainable future of British farming.
    Sensibly-sized herds that are managed sympathetically are exactly what are needed to counter-balance the environmentally unsound practices of intensive farming.
    Organic farmers benefit their cattle, their land and their customers in so many ways.
    I hope the public can increasingly support the organic way.

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  • Anon 2june

    What a load of rubbish .Organic farming is just another system that may suit some but not others.The simplistic view that conventional farming is by not being organic intensive or environmentally unsound is as insulting as it is inaccurate.

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  • Organic farming may be 'just another system' but it's a better one in terms of the environment and sustainability and far from disrespecting 'conventional farming', my point was directed towards heralding the organic way (not rubbishing conventional farming).
    I'm sorry if you felt I was being 'insulting' and 'inaccurate', that was not the intention.
    I do however stand by my comments regarding intensive agricultural practices, and I know for a fact I'm not alone in that view.

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