HC Deb 12 November 1998 vol 319 cc312-3W
22. Mr. Patrick Hall

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action his Department is taking to support organic farming. [58065]

Mr. Morley

Our aim is to encourage organic farming.

We are doing a great deal to achieve this. We have announced that, subject to clearance from the European Commission and parliamentary approval, substantial improvements will be made to the Organic Aid Scheme which gives financial assistance to farmers converting to organic production. Payments are made over five years and are made independent of and additional to other subsidies which both organic and conventional farmers can claim. Payments to farmers in England under the Organic Aid Scheme are expected to increase to around £9 million by 2000.

We also fund the Organic Conversion Information Service (OCIS)—which provides a special telephone Helpline and free advisory visits for prospective organic farmers. Additional support is being given to this service. And we are funding a programme of Research and Development on projects designed to provide practical information for organic farmers and to assess the environmental impact of this form of farming. We have already increased the budget for this work to £1.5 million in the current year and we are planning a further increase to over £2 million next year.