HC Deb 30 July 1998 vol 317 cc466-7W
23. Mr. David Taylor

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what resources he is allocating over the next three years to provide advice to farmers wishing to convert to organic production; and if he will make a statement. [51710]

Mr. Morley

Free advice, including a telephone help line and on-farm advisory visits, is available from the Organic Conversion Information Service (01179 227707), funded by the Ministry. I am considering the amounts to be made available to fund this service in the light of the comprehensive spending review.

Mr. Kidney

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what decisions he has taken on the recommendations of the review of the organic aid scheme; and if he will make a statement. [54385]

Mr. Nick Brown

Since we came to office, we have been determined to encourage more farmers to convert to organic production. We have made more resources available for advice to help them and I am pleased to say that many more are realising the opportunities that organic farming can offer and seeking to convert. However, conversion has costs and the additional returns cannot be realised immediately.

More support is justified for farmers during the conversion period. Subject to the agreement of the European Commission, it is my intention to increase payment rates under the English scheme to those recommended in the review which we commissioned last year.

If organic farming is to become a mainstream option, it is important to encourage larger farms to convert. For this reason, I intend to go beyond the recommendations of that review and lift the 300 hectare limit on the area which can qualify for aid. I will also be going beyond the recommendations of the review by making the annual payment at the end of the first quarter, thus helping farmers' cash flow at a difficult time.