11 February 2000

OFSuncertainty risks

UNCERTAINTY over the future funding of the Organic Farming Scheme is restricting the number of growers converting, warns the Soil Association.

"With no new scheme in place and no guarantees on backdated payments, conversion this year will be too big a risk for many farmers, especially in the arable sector," says SA agricultural development officer Laure Barrington.

The scheme closed in October 1999 when the money ran out. After heavy lobbying an extra £10m was found, but that was all allocated by the end of November.

Now, the £8.7m budget for the OFS in 00/01 will all be taken up by second year or later payments for existing converters, it seems. That leaves no cash to fund new applications in England, she explains.

The modulation package announced by Minister Nick Brown will add another £140m over a seven year period to organic support, starting in April 2001. It is hoped that farms converting this spring will be able to apply to the scheme from that date and receive one years backdated payment.

Elm Farm Research Director Lawrence Woodward says MAFF have made a commitment that the scheme will continue, but it is still being reviewed. The consultation period ends Feb 18.

OFS arable aid

Before the scheme closed, payments were as follows:

Year of conversion £/ha

Year 1 225

Year 2 135

Year 3 50

Year4 20

Year 5 20

Total 450

Plus one-off lump sum payments of £300, £200 and £100 in years 1,2 and 3 respectively.