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The BBC's Robert Pigott
"The government said there is an extra 140 million available to help farmers in England to convert to organic farming"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 18:29 GMT
Organic farming receives cash boost
140m will be available to convert land to organic farming

Farmers in England are to receive 1.6bn over the next seven years to diversify their businesses, including 140m to allow land to be converted to organic production.

But farmers will face a cut in direct subsidies as the cash is redirected into schemes to help rural communities and the environment.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown announced the 1.6bn initiative, which he said was a 60% increase in spending, in a parliamentary statement.

Farming in crisis
He described the package as "a radical redirection of the support for agriculture and a significant increase for rural development".

Plans for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be set out separately by their own administrations.

Nick Brown: "Committed to reforming agricultural supports"
Mr Brown said: "The government is committed to reforming agricultural supports so they are less distortionary and more closely reflect the public benefits that agriculture provides.

"We want to offer farmers constructive help to enhance and diversify their businesses in response to changing market circumstances."

Mr Brown said the changes were being made under European Union rural development regulation.

Each pound redirected to the new rural development regulation would be matched by an additional pound of new spending by the government, Mr Brown told MPs.

Rural development projects
500m towards countryside stewardship schemes
140m towards organic farm conversion

85m towards woodlands
40m towards better marketing and processing
30m towards growing energy crops
Rural development represented the long-term future of farming, Mr Brown told MPs.

The package of measures represented "a significant opportunity for improving the rural environment and the countryside landscape".

The initiative would also set the agenda for reforming the Common Agricultural Policy in years to come, said Mr Brown.

Opposition agriculture spokesman Tim Yeo demanded to know how much of the funding announced by Mr Brown was new money instead of "cash which is being moved from one pocket to the other".

This package does nothing to address the crisis which is destroying British livestock farming today.
Tim Yeo
He also questioned how much of the new money to be spent on the rural development regulation will actually reach farmers.

Mr Yeo continued: "This package does nothing to address the crisis which is destroying British livestock farming today."

Liberal Democrat Colin Breed welcomed the plans but expressed his disappointment there was no mention of an early retirement scheme for farmers.

Mr Brown said he was a strong supporter of such a scheme but the government had been unable to shape a package which would work.

But the National Farmers' Union expressed concerns that thousands of farmers would lose out under the programme because half of the new money was coming from their own pockets.

In a statement, the union said although member states had the option of diverting funds away from direct support payments to farmers to support rural development, Britain was only one of two to do so.

NFU president Ben Gill said: "At a time when farm incomes are under critical pressure, we are extremely concerned at these plans to take money in this way out of farmers' pockets from 2001 onwards."

The Countryside Alliance supported the announcement by Mr Brown that farm subsidies are to be "modulated".

It said the scheme will enable farmers to be paid for agri-environmental schemes such as conservation, tourism, business diversification and organic foods, tasks that many already carry out as part of their routine farm management.

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See also:
01 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Blair back British beef 101%
02 Dec 99 |  UK
Course sows seeds for organic future
24 Nov 99 |  Battle for Free Trade
Agriculture trade battle looms
26 Nov 99 |  Health
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