317 applications were received in respect of the 2021 Organic Farming Scheme, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has confirmed.
When opening the scheme, Minister of State Pippa Hackett said that the “significant level of funding provided for this new scheme” would facilitate the entry of 400 to 500 farmers into organic farming.
The Organic Farming Scheme is an agri-environment measure under the department’s Rural Development Programme.
The objective of the scheme is to “deliver enhanced environmental and animal welfare benefits and to encourage producers to respond to the market demand for organically produced food”.
Re-opening of the Organic Farming Scheme
Funding of €4 million was allocated to facilitate the re-opening of the Organic Farming Scheme in 2021.
Farmers entering the scheme could qualify for yearly payments of up to €220/ha during the conversion period and up to €170/ha when they have achieved full organic status.
Higher payment rates are available for organic horticulture and tillage farmers.
A total of 317 applications were received in respect of the 2021 Organic Farming Scheme.
Cork had the highest number of applicants (33), followed by Tipperary (27), Galway (26), Cavan (19), Kerry (17) and Leitrim (17).
Dublin and Louth both had less than five applicants, while Waterford had five, Longford had six, and Westmeath and Carlow had seven.
The scheme reopened for new applicants from all sectors on March 1, and closed on April 30.
Minister Pippa Hackett said she expected the reopening to result in an increase of up to 30% in the number of farmers producing organically in Ireland this year.
Ireland’s struggle to meet organic targets
Overall, Ireland will struggle to meet the EU organic targets, according to the EU Commissioner for Agriculture.
Speaking at a press conference after the commission’s action plan for development of organic production was adopted recently, Janusz Wojciechowski said that Ireland is one of the member states in which the development of organic farming “is very slow and very small”.
Presently, about 8.5% of the EU’s total agricultural area is farmed organically, and the trends show that with the present growth rate, the EU could reach between 15% and 18% by 2030.
Ireland’s share of total agricultural land currently under organic production is around 2% (74,000ha), one of the lowest in Europe.
Based on 2020 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) details, the county with the largest area of land under organic production is Cork, with 8,990ha. Galway has an organic area of 6,616ha and Kerry has an area of 5,503ha.
Carlow has the lowest area of 239ha, while Louth has an area of 244ha, and Dublin has a figure of 377ha.
‘Unambitious approach to organic farming’
Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture Matt Carthy has recently said that the government’s “unambitious and disinterested approach to the development of organic farming” is “deeply concerning”.
He said that the government intended to create 400 to 500 new places in the organic scheme “but the department’s own revised estimates indicate an increase of just 330 places”.
“I have no doubt that, over the next decade, we will see an increase in the amount of agricultural land under organic production in Ireland,” the deputy said.
He said he fears that “in a panic to catch up”, organics schemes that “will completely exclude our smaller family farmers” will be pursued.
“Our family farmers are directly responsible for the positive reputation Irish food enjoys across the world,” he added.
“It should be a source of embarrassment that Ireland has the second lowest organic production in the EU.”