Farm bodies give cautious welcome to reopening of organics scheme

The IFA and ICSA have both welcomed the reopening of the Organics Scheme next month, but have swiftly followed up by airing their concerns.

Minister of State, Senator Pippa Hackett today announced that the Organic Farming Scheme will reopen to new entrants in the first week of March. The re-opening, subject to EU Commission approval, is expected to result in an increase of up to 30% in the number of farmers farming organically in Ireland this year.

Encouraging farmers to apply for the scheme, Minister Hackett said: “I am happy to prioritise those sectors for which most market demand exists, namely the dairy, horticulture and tillage sectors, but I also want to encourage young farmers to convert to organic farming so I will be making provision in the selection process to achieve this.

“I will also ensure that farmers who were not successful in gaining entry to the previous scheme but who have continued to farm organically, have their commitment acknowledged, through priority access.”

Responding to the announcement, ICSA Organics chair Fergal Byrne said: “The opportunity for an additional 400-500 farmers to convert to organics farming is welcome, however priority will once again be given to those in the dairy, tillage and horticulture sectors at the expense of drystock farmers.”

Mr Byrne said it is clear more will need to be done in terms of future investment in the sector. “ICSA wants to see cattle and sheep farmers included in the movement towards organic farming, not actively discouraged. Our ambition must be to develop an Organics Scheme that would include far greater numbers of cattle and sheep farmers, in tandem with a drive to secure adequate markets for all organic produce.”

“We know that our beef and lamb producers are willing to get on board, but we also need to see a concerted effort from the Department of Agriculture, from Bord Bia and from our meat processors to drive this sector forward in any meaningful way.”

Mr Byrne said he would still encourage ICSA members to apply for the scheme, “As young farmers will also be prioritised for the scheme, young cattle and sheep farmers may have a better chance of being accepted. It may also be an option for some drystock farmers to consider diversifying some of their holding to tillage to increase their chances of being accepted into the scheme.”

Meanwhile IFA Organic Project Team Chairman, Nigel Renaghan stressed the Department "must execute this scheme correctly", and that they would be meeting with the Minister later this week to discuss it further.

Nigel Renaghan said, “The scheme last re-opened in November 2018 for four weeks. 75% of applicants were refused admission due to a flawed points-based system which discriminated against smaller land-based applicants. The re-opened scheme must be properly administered; we cannot have a situation where so many farmers are rejected again.

“IFA has lobbied extensively for the rejected applicants of the previous scheme who continued to farm organically, despite remaining outside the scheme. The Minister’s commitment to prioritising these farmers is positive. There has to be an acknowledgement that these farmers have been farming organically for the last two years with no payment. They should receive the conversion rate of payment for two years from the time they enter into the scheme.”

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