22 October 1999

Organic area set for a big surge ahead

THE organic sector in Northern Ireland is still on a very small scale compared with the rest of the UK but this could be about to change.

Until a few months ago fewer than 10 organic farmers operated in the province. But following the launch of the Organic Farming Scheme this year, the figure is expected to grow.

The scheme, which was launched in June, has already attracted more than 50 applicants and officials are keen to emphasise that unlike its English equivalent, it is still open.

The department is unwilling to reveal quite how much money has been earmarked from its agri-environment fund to pay for the scheme, but a spokesman said they could cope with the number of applications so far.

The expectation was that more than 1000ha (2470 acres) would be in conversion by the end of the financial year in April, he said.

Much of the interest has been attributed to the influence of the major multiples who have only moved into the province relatively recently.

Until their arrival farmers had little incentive to convert because there was not the same pressure from consumers for organic produce. Shoppers tended to know where the food was coming from and so trusted it anyway, he explained.