Organic visits dwindle
FAR fewer Welsh farmers are requesting free organic conversion advisory visits than a year ago.
Richard Collier, a senior ADAS organic farming consultant, believes interest is still strong, but producers are waiting to see how much conversion aid will be allocated for 2000/01.
"This could be short-sighted because we will not know until the autumn, when it will be too late to get going. So I am urging those who are serious about changing to use the Organic Conversion Information Service now."
The funding omens are good. Last year the Welsh Assembly increased its funding for the Organic Aid Scheme from £1m to £2.9m, allowing in all 257 eligible applicants. Christine Gwyther, the assemblys agriculture secretary, is a keen supporter of organic farming and fully committed to seeing 10% of Welsh agriculture managed organically by 2005.
The current figure is 1.5% and when she launched the multi-agency Organic Centre Wales she acknowledged that it would need to be very successful for the target to be met.
Nic Lampkin, OCWs director, told her that the target was ambitious, but realistic. Farmers needed good access to information, advice and training, and the centres partners were ideally placed to provide it.
"The official opening is a major step forward in the development of the organic sector in Wales, and in ensuring that more produce from Wales takes its place in a market which, in the UK alone, is expected to be worth over £1bn annually by 2001. Currently more than 70% of organic produce is imported."
The centre, located at the Institute of Rural Studies, Aberystwyth, is financed through a £700,000 contract with the Welsh assembly. The other partners are ADAS Consulting, the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, Elm Farm Research Centre and the Soil Association.
It will be a one-stop information shop for farmers considering conversion, a focus for research, development and training, and it will co-ordinate the activities of the Welsh Organic Demonstration Farm Network. This includes seven commercial and four institutional farms providing practical guidance to producers embarking on conversion.
Mr Lampkin said the benefits of organic farming were still not fully recognised, they included protection of the landscape and environment, promoting good human health and sustainability. There was also market demand for its products.
Gareth Rowlands, chairman of the assemblys organic strategy group, said this century was the organic century, and the launch of the centre was a momentous day for Welsh farming.
"The government can make or break organics. There is a vision but we need funding to take this as far as possible."
The centre, and its distinctive logo, will have a high profile at next weeks Royal Welsh Show as part of the Welsh Agri-food Partnerships activities.
Nic Lampkin says organic benefits are not yet recognised.
Sign of the times…the Organic Centre Wales will provide information for farmers considering conversion and be a focus for research, development and training.