03 August 1999
No more cash for organic conversion
By FWi staff
JUNIOR agriculture minister Elliot Morley has admitted that the government has run out of money for farmers who want to convert to organic production.
Producers hoping to apply for subsidies to offset their losses while converting to organic production are likely to remain disappointed this year, he acknowledged.
The governments new Organic Farming Scheme, launched just three months ago, is already over-subscribed, confirmed Mr Morley in a press statement today (Monday).
The scheme, launched in April, aimed at encouraging producers to convert to organic farming and almost doubled the aid rate for better land in conversion.
Payments for producers farming land eligible under the arable aid payment scheme were increased from £250/ha to £450/ha over a five-year conversion period.
For ineligible land – excluding unimproved land and rough grazing – rates were increased by £350/ha.
The amount of UK organic farmland increased five-fold last year and more than 450 farmers had applied to join the new scheme, said Mr Morley.
A further 53 applications from farmers wanting to transfer from the old conversion scheme will help boost the amount of land now farmed organically by 42,000ha.
Mr Morley said he today that he was delighted the new scheme had been so enthusiastically received by farmers and had kick-started the organic sector.
But supporters of organic farming methods are angry that the scheme also allows ministers to suspend aid payments once the budget is exhausted.
The schemes £6.2 million budget is not enough to offset the increased number of farmers who want to farm organically, they say.
Mr Morley acknowledged there was not enough money to satisfy all applicants now and said that £8.5m would be made available under the scheme next year.
“It is a fact that we havent enough money to do all the things we would like to, not just in the organic sector, but also for our other agri-environmental schemes.”
Further applications from farmers hoping to go organic will be processed and, if eligible, will be approved on a first-come-first-served basis, said Mr Morley.
Payments will then be made to those farmers next financial year, he added.
Farmers who have recently registered with an organic certification body but have not yet applied for the new scheme must do so within three months of registering.
But farmers who have not yet completed registration will have to decide whether to delay their application to join the conversion scheme until next year.