Switch not that difficult
Many farmers interested in organic cropping shy away
because of perceived problems with conversion.
John Allan relays the experiences of one grower who found
few problems making the switch
SINCE the Organic Conversion Information Service was launched last year 1461 farmers have contacted it and 755, representing over 53,000ha (131,000 acres), have requested an advisory visit from the MAFF contracted Elm Farm Organic Advisory Service.
However, some farms started along the road to conversion before the scheme started, among them Abbey Home Farm near Cirencester.
Having come from a conventional unit, farm manager John Newman admits he was apprehensive at the outset. "But five years on the changeover has not been as difficult as I expected."
Following a four-year conversion programme virtually all the farms 601ha (1484 acres) are now certified to produce organic crops, milk and meat. The switch in 1992 followed a spell of five-year set-aside for the drought-prone Cotswold brash soils in the 1980s.
Taking the conversion plunge needs careful planning, says Mr Newman. At Abbey Home Farm it was based on a feasibility study carried out by Elm Farm Organic Advisory Service, before it received MAFF backing.
In 1994 the Organic Aid Scheme was introduced, providing five annual conversion payments, on a sliding scale from £70/ha (£28.33/acre) to £25/ha (£10.12/acre) in non-LFAs and a lower rate in LFAs. The aid can be claimed on 300ha (742 acres), so converting some of the 600ha farm was delayed so the maximum area could be entered.
ABBEY HOME FARM
• Total area 601ha.
• Wheat, oats, triticale 136ha.
• Lucerne/peas for forage 52ha.
• Grass/red/white clover 203ha.
• Permanent pasture 48ha.
• Set-aside – vetch, red and white clover 56ha.
• 4-7 year rotations.
• Milling wheat GM £1000+/ha.
• Livestock – 132 Friesians and followers, 550 late lambing ewes, 44 head beef.
Red clover/ryegrass leys cut and mulched help build fertility on areas out of bounds to John Newmans livestock because of the Cirencester bypass.