16 April 1999

Organic scheme is second rate, says Soil Association

By Jonathan Riley

THE new Organic Farming Scheme, officially launched by farm minister, Nick Brown, this week, has been branded inadequate and second rate by organic promotion body the Soil Association.

Under the scheme, land eligible for the Area Aid Payment Scheme (AAPS) will attract £450/ha (£182/acre) rather than £250/ha (£101/acre) previously paid over the five-year conversion period.

Improved land not eligible for AAPS will receive £350/ha (£141/acre) over the five years. Previous additional annual payments of £30/ha (£12/acre), paid on the first 5ha, have been replaced by lump sums per farm of £300 in year one, £200 the year after and £100 in year three.

But Soil Association director, Patrick Holden, said the scheme was inadequate and met neither current nor future demands.

"The government has failed to take into account the huge increase in farmers converting to organic systems. Our estimates suggest there are already 30,000ha of land eligible for these new payments, mopping up the allocated £6m budget without even taking into account new applications later in the year.

"If MAFF had taken the trouble to consult us, it would have been obvious that current conversion trends far exceed their unrealistic projections," he said.

Mr Holden added that, despite the huge increase in consumer demand, the UK now had a second rate scheme, reflecting the Prime Ministers lack of interest in organic farming.

Launching the scheme, Mr Brown said that he had to make the best use of the money available and had decided to concentrate aid on the conversion period when yields dropped and the premiums paid for organic produce could not be realised.

He added that the MAFF budget to support farmers converting was expected to increase six-fold this year with further increases next year.

But he warned that organic production systems would not be right for every business and should not be seen as an easy option.

LEAF secures extra government cash

THE government has decided to continue its support of the pro- integrated farming management group Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF), with a cash boost of £39,600.

The money, which will come from the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions, will be used to continue the promotion of integrated management through technical guidelines, workshops and farm training days. It will also go towards expanding the LEAF demonstration farm network from 29 units to 37 by the end of the year.

LEAF project co-ordinator Caroline Drummond said: "The grant, contributing 20% to our overall budget, will go some way to providing the necessary financial base on which to build our activities." &#42

Big stores want more suppliers

MORE opportunities for British organic farmers were presented this week, with retailers Tesco and Marks and Spencer both determined to increase the volume of organic produce they sell.

Tesco says it is doubling the organic lines it offers. From next week it will sell up to 350 organic products in selected stores, with a range of at least 50 items in all 600 outlets. Currently the retailer offers 180 lines sold in just 50 of its stores.

Andy Sellick, Tesco organic project manager, said the firm was actively looking for UK suppliers to meet increased customer demand. "We want those farmers who are in a position to convert to consider organic farming as a serious marketing option.

"At the moment Tesco does not have enough farmers to meet customer demand. We will be talking to producers in the months ahead about how together we could meet these new marketing opportunities."

Meanwhile, Marks and Spencer has announced a £1m summer farm show campaign to woo organic producers. Chris Gilbert-Wood, M&S head of livestock and agriculture, said: "The clear message we have is that consumers want this and that there is an opportunity for farmers and growers."

The firm will use the nine summer shows which it is involved in sponsoring this year, including the Royal Highland and Royal Welsh, to talk to farmers across the country. &#42

Scots A2000 forums

THE Scottish NFU is to hold a series of regional forum meetings to give members the latest information and answer questions about the Agenda 2000 reforms.

The meetings will give farmers the chance to have their say in order to influence union policy in the governments consultation process on those issues where decisions will be taken at a national level. Policy staff will also be on hand to pass on detailed technical information and to explain the practical implications of the deal. &#42