More than 1,100 farmers joined MAFF’s organic conversion scheme in 1999. Under the previous scheme, 400 farmers went organic over a five-year period, according to MAFF figures.

The UK Government allocated £24m to farmers for organic conversion over the last nine months. As a result 75,000 ha in England will be converted to organic farming. In April 1998, there were 50,000 hectares being farmed organically in the whole of the UK.

Countryside Minister Elliot Morley hailed 1999 as “a watershed year” for organic farming. In April, payment rates were increased with a budget of £6.2m for 1999/00 and £8.7m for 2000/01, all of which was allocated by October (see related story). A further £9.3m was added to these budgets during November and December.

In December, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown also announced £1.6bn for rural development under the Government’s Rural Development Programme which will be submitted to the European Commission for approval later this month. £1bn will be put aside for agri-environment schemes, of which £140m may be allocated to organic conversion. The plan is funded by a combination of UK Government and EU money with modulated Common Agricultural Policy payments for farmers (see related story).

Meanwhile, Lord Peter Melchett, Executive Director of Greenpeace UK has predicted that 30 percent of agricultural land in Europe will be organic by 2010, according to Reuters.

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