1 May 2001
Organic conversion cash goes begging

By FWi staff

FIVE million pounds put up by the Government this year to help farmers convert to organic conversion has yet to be claimed.

Despite concerns that the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) would be quickly over-subscribed, less than two-thirds of its 13 million budget has been allocated.

But the Soil Association, Britains biggest organic certification body, says this is due to the foot-and-mouth crisis and not waning interest in the sector.

Now the association, which had predicted that funds would run out by April, is urging producers to act quickly to secure remaining funds.

Its head of agricultural services, Phil Stocker, urged producers affected by the foot-and-mouth to give serious consideration to switching to organic production.

“Foot-and-mouth has put a stop to advisory visits or inspections and farmers have been focusing on dealing with the disease,” said Mr Stocker.

“We appreciate the fact that the future is still uncertain for those directly affected but we urge them to seriously consider organic farming as a viable alternative.”

Mr Stocker said farms which have lost stock can use the six-month quarantine period as part of their two-year conversion period.

This time could be put to good use in crop planning, acquiring technical knowledge and conducting market research, he said.

Soil Association Certification Ltd plan to run a series of roadshows later this year in the north and south-west.

Mr Stocker advised that in the short term funding for the OFS should not be a problem even after the remaining 5m is allocated.

Applicants issued with organic certificates after 2 July 2001 will be eligible for funds from the 2002 scheme, he explained.

Earlier this year, the Agriculture Select Committee cross-party group of MPs criticised the stop-go nature of the OFS, which was quickly oversubscribed last year.

Within three weeks of re-opening this January the scheme received applications for 3m of the available 13m.

Organic farming is one of the few profitable areas of farming and has become an attractive option for cash-strapped producers.

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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