10 July 1998

Organic aid urged to keep pace with publics demand

By Jonathan Riley

INDUSTRY bodies have called for government to provide more support for organic farming despite an upsurge in the number of producers applying to join the organic aid scheme.

At the show, farm minister Jack Cunningham announced that over 140 applications had been received by MAFF in the first five months of this year, adding to the 306 who had signed up previously.

This would add an extra 7000ha (17000acre) to the 75000ha (187,000acres) currently farmed organically.

NFU president Ben Gill said the figures showed that more farmers recognised the increased consumer demand for organic produce but more government assistance was needed.

Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, added that farmers needed more backing to allow them to compete with organic producers abroad.

"I am amazed that MAFF has not seized on a golden opportunity to support a sustainable and environmentally friendly form of farming, that would also make the government immensely popular with the electorate," said Mr Holden.

"The UK has the most developed market and demand for organic produce but we have to import 70% of the organic produce to satisfy that demand."

Only 0.4% (£0.5m) of the £120m total budget for producer schemes is devoted to organic production. And this is only given to producers during the five-year conversion period.

"Compare this with the level of support for other EU member states and it is easy to see why organic production in those states is higher.

"British farmers receive only 82ecus/ha a year for the five-year conversion period, compared with 280ecus/ha in the rest of the EU. And while other states continue to receive an annual payment of 240ecus/ha after the conversion period the UK farmer receives no support at all," said Mr Holden.