The Organic Conversion Information Service (OCIS) was originally launched in 1996 and ran through to 2006. The objective of the service is summarised in its title i.e. the provision of impartial expert advice direct to producers on their farms and holdings. The service has always been free to the producer and this first contract was run jointly by the Soil Association (helpline) and the Organic Advisory Service (visits). It received some 15,600 calls and delivered in excess of 8,000 visits.
The service closed at the end of 2006 while changes to its structure and management were implemented. The service was re-tendered and the OAS was successful in its bid to run ‘new’ OCIS including the helpline. The level of interest has not reached the levels under the previous contract but a significant number of farms have been helped during the current contract. According to the Defra press release 750 farms applied for organic conversion and 50,000 hectares have been accepted into the Organic Entry Level Scheme (OELS).
The Government states that it continues to value the organic sector and that financial support will continue to be provided under the OELS. At the time of the launch of the new service Sir Martin Doughty, chair of Natural England said “One of the potential barriers to conversion is a lack of knowledgeby non organic producers about organic principles and production methods – a barrier which OCIS, delivered by the Orgnaic Research Centre, will help to remove”. This help will no longer be available beyond March but new initiatives have been promised by Defra.
Funds will remain available until 31st march 2011 for conventional farmers, considering converting, to ring the helpline and have a free visit (subject to meeting the eligibility criteria) from an independent organic adviser.