A £50,000 development fund to give organic farming in Scotland a shot in the arm was launched yesterday – as official figures showed that the area of land devoted to organic production north of the Border had fallen to almost a quarter of its 2002 level.
The statistics, which showed a further decline of 7 per cent in 2015, were released against a backdrop of rising organic production across the rest of the Europe and highlighted the fact that the organic area in Scotland was at its lowest since the 1990s.
The development fund – which follows on from Scotland’s Organic Action Plan released in January – will be used to identify where the gaps in the Scottish organic supply chain lie and to assess what needs to be done on the ground to reinvigorate the sector.
Organisations securing funding will look at how to strengthen the infrastructure throughout the Scottish organic sector and will focus on addressing the critical gaps in infrastructure – especially the lack of organically certified abattoirs, grain mills and other processing facilities.
Announcing the funding, cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing said that the supply of organic food had a significant role to play in driving forward Scotland’s rural economy, whilst contributing to protecting the environment.
Stating that Scottish consumers had increased their spend on organic food by almost 3 per cent in the past year to more than £52 million, he said: “There is clearly evidence of strong demand and potential to boost the rural economy, whilst at the same time enhancing Scotland’s already stellar reputation for quality food and drink. I hope that this funding will help to improve on these statistics.”
However organic organisations pointed out that while there had been a reduction in new applications over the period, the lack of SRDP funding for organic conversion during 2015 had stemmed the normal inflow into the sector, skewing the figures:
Debs Roberts, policy manager with certification body the Scottish Organic Producers Association, said: “With the conversion funding issue now back on an even keel, strong signs of demand led growth, the launch of our action plan and a manifesto pledge to grow the organic sector we have seen a big increase in the number of applicants looking to convert to organic production this year.”
She said that the official figures had masked the 5 per cent increase in membership which the organisation had seen last year, indicating that Scottish producers were “up for the challenge” of supplying this growing market.
Chairman of the Scottish Organic Forum, David Michie, said the key was to ensure every link in the organic chain –from supply through to demand - was connected, allowing Scottish producers to supply the home market.
Laura Stewart, Soil Association Scotland director, said that her organisation had also seen a significant increase in inquiries from farmers in Scotland looking to convert to organic this year, stating that the combination of effective support payments and increased demand were making the move to organic a “viable business choice”.