13 August 2001
Ministers relax organic scheme rules

By FWi staff

THE government has relaxed requirements for its organic conversion scheme to help farmers whose applications have been stalled by foot-and-mouth restrictions.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says changes to its Organic Farming Scheme will get applications moving again.

Until now, OFS applications could only be made by farmers who were registered with an organic inspection body, such as the Soil Association.

But foot-and-mouth movement restrictions have prevented inspection bodies getting onto farms to register new conversions.

Now DEFRA says applications which have been held up by virus controls can be processed to the point of payment before full registration is completed.

Junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley said: “Im delighted that by making this change to the administrative process we can bring farmers on board more quickly, and continue our commitment to sustainable farming.

Since the scheme was introduced in 1999, some 1400 farmers have joined the OFS, putting over 100,000 hectares of land under organic management.

But while in previous years it was quickly over-subscribed, this year foot-and-mouth has meant that 2m of 5m for new applications is still available.

Farmers will still be required to obtain a certificate of registration from an organic inspection body before aid payments are made.

These changes are a temporary arrangement which will come to an end next March.

DEFRA is writing to farmers have registered application with inspection bodies but cannot be inspected, inviting them to apply to the OFS.

Other farmers affected by virus restrictions will be able to apply to the OFS after contacting one of the inspection bodies.

DEFRA has also said that we will aim to pay claims from farmers within two months of them falling due.

Around 3% of UK farmland is cultivated organically and the annual market is expected to break through the 1bn mark by 2002.

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