Scots organic beef
SCOTTISH farmers have been left trying to double guess the government on future incentives for organic production.
While UK farm minister Nick Brown has announced hefty increases in conversion grants and removed payment ceilings for farmers in England and Wales, the Scots are left with existing levels at least until the autumn when interim, enhanced payments may be announced, or until 2000 when all their agri-environment schemes are to be amalgamated.
Whether to go for the existing scheme, which pays £250/ha (£100/acre) over five years for arable and improved grassland and £37/ha (£15/acre) for rough grazing, or wait in the hope of larger payments, was a major talking point at a series of open days on organic farms organised by the Scottish Agricultural College.
A feature of the events was the number attending – well over 100 in each case – and the high proportion of large-scale farmers in the audience. The final venue was Loch Arthur Farm near Dumfries where Nick Waugh, factor for Buccleuch Estates, said he was interested in the concept of organic farming.
"We already have one unit converted and are looking at others. Obviously the grant level is important and its difficult to make decisions at the present time," he said.
Hill and upland farmer Sandy Forsyth, Tynron, said he was going to accept the present scheme to convert his land but not the livestock. But Simon Barnes, Moniaive, said he was going to wait for a couple of years. "I would hate to get locked into a five-year scheme and then have significantly higher rates announced but only for new entrants," he said.
Mr Forsyth countered with the fear that any large increase in conversion grants would be linked to stock reduction.
David Kirkpatrick who has beef, sheep, and dairy interests near Thornhill was another showing keen interest, as was dairy farmer Derek Roan from Dalbeattie. "I dont think its for me at this stage but it is something we will have to consider. There is a 10p/litre premium for organic milk and that is a lot in percentage terms," Mr Roan said.
David Younie, head of the SAC organic farming unit, believes the government will announce higher conversion grants in the autumn to bring Scotland into line with England.