HC Deb 01 February 1999 vol 324 cc433-4W
Mr. Martyn Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if she will estimate the amount of farmland(a) converted, (b) under conversion and (c) considering conversion to organic; what assessment she has made of future trends in this area; and if she will make a statement on the geographical spread of such land. [67766]

Mr. Paul Murphy

The information is as follows:

  • Converted: 176 hectares
  • Under Conversion: 20 hectares
  • Considering Conversion: 607 hectares

The indications are that there will be a significant increase in the amount of land in NI under organic production over the next few years.

It is, however, not possible to assess the geographical spread of such land although from the approaches from farmers considering conversion the interest is across a range of commodities and it is well spread across NI.

Mr. Martyn Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if she will make a statement on her Department's strategy for helping Northern Ireland's farmers to become organic; and if she will list her Department's current initiatives in this area. [67763]

Mr. Paul Murphy

There has been very little uptake of organic farming in Northern Ireland. In recognition of this situation, and in line with the Government's policy of encouraging more organic production, the Organic Farming Liaison Group (OFLG) was established to co-ordinate and pursue increased uptake of organic farming. The OFLG bring together officials from the Department of Agriculture with representatives of conventional and organic farming.

The existing Organic Aid Scheme has been reviewed and increased rates of payment will be available during the first five years to those who enter conversion after 1 April 1998.

The Department of Agriculture provides advice and guidance to prospective organic farmers. It has developed organic production information packs and has made available a two day course entitled "Introduction to Organic Production" which aims to provide basic information for farmers and growers, who are potentially interested in converting to organic production.

I am pleased to record that, in recent months, there has been a marked increase in interest from conventional farmers and a number have submitted applications for registration of land for organic conversion. This interest has been across a range of commodities and from various parts of NI.

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