Farmers rush to go organic

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The Independent Online
FARMERS ARE falling over themselves in the rush to go organic. Tomorrow, the Government will release pounds 6m in grants for those prepared to farm in the non-chemical way and the money will have run out by Tuesday.

A decade ago the number of organic farmers could be counted on the fingers of two hands - now there are 1,500 cashing in on booming consumer demand for organic vegetables and meat. Supermarket chains say the demand can be met only by imports.

But the organisation which will administer and police the scheme, the Soil Association, says the cash will do little to get more British produce on the shelves. They have 1,000 farmers waiting to convert to organic.

The association, organic agriculture's ruling body whose patron is the Prince of Wales, says the money may be just enough to help the backlog of farmers already queuing to abandon chemicals. The grants will barely cover the 30,000 hectares of extra land due to come under organic cultivation in the next two years.

The new scheme will offer up to pounds 450 a hectare over five years for farmers in the process of converting to organic methods.

"The Government is so out of touch," said Simon Brenman, the association's agriculture development director. "We could have predicted the inadequacy of their budget."

The aid programme will be launched by Nick Brown, Agriculture Minister, as a sign of the Government's "serious commitment" to pesticide-free farming. During a visit to an organic farm in Worcestershire, Mr Brown will announce a 10-fold increase in grants to try to boost the sector to levels seen on the continent.

The extra pounds 6.2m over five years, earmarked to help farmers while they are converting to organic methods, will increase to pounds 9.5m by 2002.

The minister will say Britain lags behind countries such as Austria and Sweden in developing organic farming methods. He will also earmark pounds 3.5m of new spending for organic research and development.

Richard Young, who farms 390 acres of organic land in Worcestershire, said: "It's not just a question of giving up chemicals. You have to have several years of building fertility of grass and clover.

"I have been farming organically for 25 years and I have had no help with the extra cost."