Payments for organic farming are rising by an average of 25 per cent via the government’s Countryside Stewardship scheme, says Soil Association

Farmers who convert to organic will receive up to a third more cash than last year as the government increases support for nature-friendly farming, the organic certification body the Soil Association said today (24 March).

Payments for organic farming are rising by an average of 25 per cent for those entering a new scheme with Countryside Stewardship, which opened for mid-tier applications this week.

The government has boosted all payments for farming that benefits the environment via Countryside Stewardship, but the increase for organic is significantly above the average increase of 10 per cent.

The renewed support follows another rate hike last year when payments for organic rose by between 46 and 500 per cent for those entering a new scheme.

It also follows the 11th year of consecutive growth for the UK organic market, which topped £3.1billion in 2022 after a challenging year for both businesses and shoppers.

Some farmers converting to organic will be able to earn twice as much as before from government incentives in Countryside Stewardship agreements that will run for five years, the Soil Association said.

Options are also available for nature-friendly practices that are in harmony with organic principles, such as avoiding insecticides and protecting soils, via the new Sustainable Farming Incentives (SFI).

Soil Association organic sector advisor Adrian Steele said: “All farmers have faced huge challenges during the last few years with the combined impacts of the pandemic, the Ukraine War, post-Brexit policies, extreme weather, and the cost-of-living crisis. But it is clear that there are big opportunities for sustainable farming and organic is receiving renewed government support. 

”Times are undoubtedly hard but both governments and citizens across the UK want to see action to protect nature and we know that agroecological and organic farming holds the solution to producing good food while protecting the environment.

“We are pleased to see this renewed commitment to rewarding organic farming. Alongside continued growth in the market, this should give farmers confidence in switching to or maintaining organic practices, despite the short-term uncertainty facing every farm.”

Farmers can apply for organic conversion or maintenance payments via the mid-tier options for Countryside Stewardship, which will be open for applications until 18 August 2023.

Converting permanent improved grassland to organic will receive 25 per cent more than before at £187 per hectare, with converting to organic top fruit receiving a third more at £1,254 per hectare.

Other organic conversion payments will receive around 17 per cent more than before, with unimproved permanent grassland now at £89 per hectare, rotational land at £296, and horticulture at £703. For management of organic farmland, payments are doubling for top fruit at £1,920 per hectare, with other payments rising by between 16 and 44 per cent.

Government funding support is contributing to a strong forecast for organic’s continued success in the UK in 2023, in particular the Scottish Government’s ambition to double the amount of organic land by 2026.

Despite the cost-of-living crisis, drive for sustainability is an ongoing trend for shoppers and retailers are making more sustainable commercial decisions amid pressure from environmental groups including WWF.

Farmers must register with a certification body like Soil Association Certification before applying for Countryside Stewardship funding to convert to organic. They must complete a conversion plan, which must be approved and signed off by an organic certification body like Soil Association Certification.