14 April 1999
Soil Association slams ‘second-rate’ organic scheme

By FWi staff

THE governments new Organic Farming Scheme is “second rate” claims the countrys leading charity committed to promoting organic food and farming.

The scheme, launched on Monday by Agriculture Minister Nick Brown, doubles the payment rates to producers who want to convert to chemical-free farming.

But the money allocated to the scheme is not enough to cope with the increasing number of farmers who want to farm organically, claims the Soil Association.

The Government had failed to take into account the huge increase in farmers converting to organic systems, said Patrick Holden, Soil Association director.

“Our estimates suggest there are already 30,000 hectares of land eligible for these new payments,” he said.

Land eligible for the Arable Aid Payment Scheme (AAPS) will now receive £450/ha rather than £250/ha over the five-year conversion period.

But there are so many farmers already converting to organic production that the schemes £6 million budget would be mopped up, claimed Mr Holden.

There would then be no money available for new applications later in the year from farmers wanting to convert to organic production, he said.

“If MAFF had taken the trouble to consult us, it would have been obvious that current conversion trends far exceed their unrealistic projections,” added Mr Holden.

“The UK now has a second-rate organic aid scheme which ultimately is a reflection of the Prime Ministers lack of interest in organic farming.”

The Soil Association also criticised the scheme for potentially penalising farmers who already receive payments for farming in ways which care for the environment.

Producers in Environmentally Sensitive Areas or farming under a Countryside Stewardship scheme are likely to receive reduced organic support.