Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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Defra launches new Organic Advisory Service for Farmers
Today Defra launched a free national information and advice service for farmers thinking of converting to organic production methods. Plans were approved by the European Commission and funding made available to reintroduce the service. The new advisory service, which will be delivered by Natural England (NE) on Defra's behalf, will provide conventional farmers with free and impartial information and advice on the principles and mechanics of organic production to help them decide whether conversion is appropriate for their enterprise. It will comprise of a national helpline (which will provide initial advice and a comprehensive information pack), a dedicated website and a free on farm advisory visits service that will supplement the initial advice provided, where appropriate.
Welcoming the announcement Lord Rooker, Minister for sustainable food and farming said:
"As a Government we are keen to encourage English farmers to convert and adopt more sustainable production practices and take advantage of the wide range of opportunities offered by rising demand for organic food.
"The Organic Research Centre has an established record of providing the agriculture sector with high quality impartial conversion information and advice and we are delighted to be collaborating with them and NE in the delivery of this new service." Sir Martin Doughty, Chair of Natural England, said:
"This is good news for farmers wishing to convert to organic production and subsequently good news for wildlife. One of the potential barriers to conversion is a lack of knowledge by non organic producers about organic principles and production methods - a barrier which OCIS, delivered by the Organic Research Centre, will help to remove."
Notes for editors
1) The original Organic Conversion Information Service (OCIS), operated by the Soil Association and Elm Farm Research Centre, on behalf of Defra, ran from 1999 and 2006. OCIS began in 1996 at a time when government aid for farmers wishing to convert to organic production was new. Until its closure in 2006, OCIS dealt with some 15,600 calls and carried out more than 8,000 free on farm advice visits at a total cost to Defra of approximately £5 million.
2) An independent review and public consultation on the future of OCIS was carried out by Defra in 2005/06. The conclusion was that an advice programme for prospective organic farmers should continue in England subject to changes being made to how the service should operate.
3) European Commission's approval to launch the new replacement service, under the State Aid exempted rules procedure, was given on 10 January 2008.
4) OCIS will be managed for Defra by Natural England.
5) Natural England has appointed the Organic Research Centre (ORC), based at Elm Farm, to deliver the new service after inviting tenders in the usual way. Work is currently underway on developing the various elements that will make up the new service, including a national helpline and information pack and an on farm advisory visits service where appropriate to supplement the initial advice provided.
6) Further information about the new service can be obtained from Natural England. Please contact Nick Cooper, OCIS Project Manager on 01483 307705.
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