10m not enough for organic sector

28 October 1999

£10m ‘not enough’ for organic sector

by Isabel Davies and John Burns

THE organic sector has described the governments promise of an extra £10 million to help farmers convert to organic production as good — but not good enough.

The new money will be made available to allow the English Organic Farming Scheme to re-open, agriculture minister Nick Brown announced on Thursday.

A spokeswoman for the Soil Association welcomed the news but warned that more money would be needed to keep the scheme open for long.

“This £10 million will effectively help out those farmers who had applications returned and had already started the conversion process,” she said.

But we actually think that it will not last four months.”

The organisation estimates the organic scheme budget needs to be increased to £50 million to keep pace with farmers who want to convert to organic production.

And the news that more money has been found is likely to intensify the debate surrounding the funding of the whole agri-environmental programme.

While the case for more organic money is strong, it is also strong for other schemes such as Countryside Stewardship, which is also heavily oversubscribed.

But during a tour of South Devon last week, junior farm minister Elliot Morley revealed he had his own ideas for finding more money.

When one farmer told Mr Morley his farm had been rejected for a Stewardship grant, Mr Morley acknowledged the system of allocating funds was “crazy”.

Instead of supporting farms which maintained wildlife habitats and landscape features, funds were directed at farms where they had previously been destroyed.

Mr Morley said: “Im passionately committed to Countryside Stewardship and really anxious to expand it in a big way.

“I get tired of scratching about with a limited budget and I really want to do something meaningful.”

The only way to correct such unfairness would be as part of a big expansion of Stewardship, he said.

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