29 October 1999

Extra £10m for organic farming

still not enough

By FW reporters

THE organic sector has described the governments promise of an extra £10m to help farmers convert to organic production as good, but not good enough.

It was announced earlier this month that the Organic Farming Scheme would have to close in England because the government had allocated two years of funding in less than six months. But this week junior farm minister Elliot Morley indicated that new money would be made available to allow the English Organic Farming Scheme to re-open.

Previously, Mr Morley had said there would be no new money until a complete review of the sector had been completed. This review will still take place. A spokesman for the Soil Association welcomed the news but warned that more money would be needed to keep the scheme open for long.

"This £10m will effectively help out those farmers who had applications returned and had already started the conversion process. But we actually think it will not last four months," she said.

The organisation estimates the Organic Farming Scheme budget needs to be increased to £50m to keep pace with the numbers of farmers wanting to convert. But the news that more money has been found for organic farmers is likely to intensify the debate surrounding the funding of the whole agri-environmental programme.

While the case for more organic money is strong, it is also strong for other schemes such as Countryside Stewardship, which is also heavily oversubscribed. But during a tour of Phillip and Roger Hoskings Ley Coombe Farm, Modbury, Devon last week, Mr Morley revealed he had his own ideas for finding more money. When Philip Hosking told him that their farm had been rejected by MAFF for a stewardship grant, Mr Morley acknowledged that the present system of allocating stewardship funds was "crazy".

Instead of supporting farms which had maintained wildlife habitats and landscape features, priority allocation of funds went to re-instatement of features on farms where they had previously been destroyed. Mr Morley said: "Im passionately committed to Countryside Stewardship and really anxious to expand it in a big way. I get tired of scratching about with a limited budget and I really want to do something meaningful."

The only way to correct such unfairness would be as part of a big expansion of stewardship, he said. And in his opinion the only way that could be funded was by modulation – taking a percentage from everyones direct subsidies. A decision on modulation had yet to be taken, stressed Mr Morley. &#42