5 July 2002

Stewardship cash as organic plank

ONGOING stewardship payments for organic farmers could emerge as a central plank of the governments action plan for the sector, due to be published at the end of the month.

Stakeholders will meet DEFRA officials on Jul 18 to thrash out the final details of the plan, which was announced by DEFRAsecretary, Margaret Beckett in Oct 2001.

The government aims to triple the amount area of land under organic cultivation by the end of 2006. As well as ongoing payments the group has also considered issues such as the potential growth of UK production and supply chain.

Phil Stocker, head of agriculture at the Soil Association, said he anticipated ongoing payments would come out of the plan which aims to set out the future direction of organic farming.

Mr Stocker said he was expecting some kind of temporary scheme to be put in place which would see organic farmers receive stewardship payments beyond conversion. &#42

This could then be revised if schemes changed as a result of the mid-term review of the CAP.

"We would be very disappointed if we dont see something by the end of the year," he told FARMERS WEEKLY. "To keep organic farming viable we need equality with the rest of Europe where payments are paid."

During stakeholder meetings with the government the SA has asked for payments of about £150/ha for arable farmers and £30-40/ha for grassland. But Mr Stocker admitted that payments would almost certainly be below that level

Oliver Harwood, head of rural economy for the Country Land and Business Association, said junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley had attended all meetings about the plan and had indicated his support for ongoing payments.

"He has been there and has been fully supportive and indicated it is his wish to do something along these lines," said Mr Harwood.

A DEFRA official in the Organic Food and Farming Centre at the Royal Show said she could not confirm if ongoing payments would be announced.

But she added: "The signs are very positive."