06 April 1998
Organic farmers cautious over
By FWi staff
ORGANIC farmers have reacted cautiously to the Governments announcement that it will boost spending to organic research and development by £337,000 to £1.5 million for 1998/99.
Agriculture minister Dr Jack Cunningham last week unveiled a series of measures designed to encourage a greater number of conventional farmers to switch to organic farming.
Apart from the money, he promised to speed up payments to organic farmers and to give them first priority when applying for grants under the Countryside and Arable Stewardship schemes.
He also agreed to boost funding for the sector bodies involved in the industry and to provide greater advice and assistance to farmers making the conversion from conventional farming.
But not included in the announcement was the rate and structure of aid to farmers during the five-year conversion period, and whether Government would offer on-going maintenance payments. These decisions will be released after the governments comprehension spending review later in the year.
On the conversion front, things look promising. A review undertaken by civil servants, which Dr Cunningham has published, indicates that aid to farmers converting to organic production, in areas currently eligible for arable subsidies, should be raised from £101 an acre over five years to £182 an acre – an increase of 80%.
Patrick Holden, Soil Association director, welcomed the measures but was “dismayed” that the issue of maintenance payments was not mentioned in the interim paper. The association has argued for a long time that UK organic farmers should receive maintenance payments on par with their European competitors.
The UK has convinced very few farmers to switch to organic methods when compared with the rest of Europe, and as a result has to import about 70% of its organic needs.
“This package fell far short of the support needed to encourage substantial adoption of organic methods. It has totally failed to acknowledge the role of organic agriculture as an important agri-environment scheme, delivering a wide range of environmental benefits,” Mr Holden said.