15 October 1999

Scots stay unscathed by OFS blow

DESPITE the closure of the Organic Farming Scheme in England last week, Scottish producers have been told that conversion payments will not dry up and had their payment rates upped to match levels in the rest of the UK.

Ross Finnie, Scottish rural affairs minister, said the increased payments were designed to make the scheme more attractive to farmers and crofters.

Payments, made over the five years of conversion to organic production, will increase by 76% to £440/ha (£178/acre) for arable land. Improved grassland undergoing conversion will be eligible for aid worth £370/ha (£150/acre), compared with the current rate of £250/ha (£101/acre).

Payment for converting rough grazing remains unchanged at £37/ha (£14.97/acre). But the number of hectares eligible to receive organic conversion aid has been increased from 300 (741 acres) to 1000 (2470 acres).

Autumn payment

The increased rates will be payable to farmers from the autumn when their claim period falls due.

Mr Finnie said: "The substantial increase in payments proposed is designed to increase the number of farmers switching to organic farming and the availability of organic produce on the shelves."

Aid will be paid more than a year in arrears, with the bulk of payments made during November.

But, with the application period to join the scheme running from Aug 1 to Oct 31, there is little time left this year for producers to apply.

In Scotland, 165 producers are already in the process of organic conversion, receiving payments totalling £194,000 last year.

A Scottish Executive official said the increased funding announced would come from the £18.8m Scottish agri-environment budget, which now incorporates the Organic Aid Scheme.

Problems in England, where the organic farming scheme ran out of money almost as soon as it opened for applications, were unlikely to be repeated in Scotland, he added.

The agri-environment budget was flexible and cash could be diverted from other areas if necessary, said the official. &#42