2 August 2002

Englands organic advantage unfair

By Johann Tasker

AMBITIOUS plans to boost organic food production in England threaten to disadvantage farmers in Wales and Scotland.

Ongoing stewardship payments of up to £30/ha (12/acre) will be paid to English organic producers in a bid to more than double organic production across Britain. The proposals, which ministers hope will be in place for next year, form a central plank of a government strategy unveiled on Monday (Jul 29).

DEFRA believes more than 70% of organic food consumed in Britain will eventually be home-grown. But because agricultural policies are devolved in Wales and Scotland, neither the Welsh Assembly nor the Scottish Executive has announced stewardship payments for their farmers.

In Wales, organic production increased five-fold between 1999 and 2001. The National Assembly has set a target for 10% of all Welsh agriculture to have adopted organic methods by 2005. But a decision on whether to make ongoing stewardship payments to Welsh organic farmers is still under review.

"Potentially, it is very difficult to see how Welsh farmers can function in what is effectively a three-tier organic market within Britain," said Sue Fowler, policy adviser at the Organic Farming Centre for Wales.

In Scotland, where 7% of agricultural land is farmed organically, there are no ongoing payments. Green MSP Robin Harper, who is putting his own Organic Targets Bill through the Scottish Parliament, accused the Scottish Executive of failing to keep up with England.

"Scotland is at the bottom of the pile when it comes to supporting organic food and farming."

The Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Executive both told farmers weekly they were considering ongoing payments for organic farmers. But they could not say when any decision was likely to be made, how much such payments might be worth, nor what criteria they had in mind. &#42


Target Ongoing payments

England To supply £5-30/ha at least 70% of domestic market

Wales At least 10% None of agriculture by 2005

Scotland None None