Special Environmental Sites and Schemes

18. Organic Farming Scheme

This Defra Scheme forms part of the England Rural Development Programme (ERDP) and is jointly funded by Defra and the European Community. In applying to enter the Scheme, applicants enter into a binding undertaking with Defra which will last for five years. There are two options under the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS):

  • payments to help farmers convert to organic farming (conversion option) during the period of their undertaking; and
  • payments to help existing organic farmers maintain their land in an environmentally beneficial way for the period of their undertaking (maintenance option).

To be eligible for conversion payments  applicants must have agreed a conversion plan for the land to be entered into the OFS conversion option with an Organic Inspection Body (OIB) before applying.   All of the land within the organic unit must be farmed in accordance with specified standards set out by the UK Registar of Organic Farm Standards (UKROFS) from its entry into conversion and from 30 May 2003, under the maintenance option, for the entire period of their undertaking.  The maintenance option is available to most agricultural land in England that is fully organic and not currently receiving Organic Farming Scheme conversion aid and may be eligible for a five year maintenance undertaking.  Before applying to join the Scheme, applicants must already be farming the land organically and be registered as an organic producer with an Organic Inspection Body.   

As part of the Scheme, farmers are required to abide by environmental management rules which includes the protection of heathland, grassland of conservational value and rough grazing areas. Certain cultivations are not permitted, traditional boundaries must be maintained (e.g. hedges and stone walls) and sensitive features such as ditches, woodlands and water courses must be managed properly. The Codes of Good Agricultural Practice must also be fully complied with. There are strict penalties for non-compliance. As a guide, payments in 1999/2000 ranged from £50 per hectare for unimproved land, to £450 per hectare for AAPS eligible land and land in permanent crops.  By the end of February 2004, 90 conversion agreements covering approximately 7,191 hectares with an approximate value of £1,481,750, and 57 maintenance agreements covering approximately 7,745 hectares worth an estimated £331,456, had been finalised. 

At the beginning of 2005, existing Defra agri-environment schemes, including OFS are to be replaced by a new scheme, the Entry Level and Higher Level 'Environmental Stewardship Scheme'. Introduction of the ELS, which will include an organic strand (OELS), follows up the recommendation of the report by the Policy Commission on Farming and Food led by Sir Don Curry that ongoing public support for organic farming should be delivered through a specific strand of the new structure of agri-environment schemes to be developed over 2002 - 2004.

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