The Irish Organic Association (IOA) and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) have both welcomed the Department of Agriculture’s announcement that the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) will reopen for applicants in 2022.

The ICSA organics chair Fergal Byrne said: “This is welcome news, particularly as proposed changes to the scheme should make it more appealing to full time farmers and those on marginal lands.

“Payments will now likely be made on 70ha up from 60ha and extensively stocked farmers will only need to satisfy the minimum stocking levels that apply under the Area of Natural Constraints (ANC) Scheme.”

An increase of €30/ha simply does not go far enough

However, Byrne said that the speculation that payments under the scheme will increase by just €30/ha from 2023 needs to be addressed if the Department are serious about persuading a significant number of farmers to switch to organics.

“An increase of €30/ha simply does not go far enough,” he added.

The ICSA is also concerned that such little importance is being placed on the marketing of organic beef and lamb.

“Over the last number of weeks, we have listened to Bord Bia outline their plans for 2022 and beyond as part of their Meat Marketing Seminar,” said Byrne.

“Organic meat was barely mentioned. This is very worrying considering the amount of CAP funds that are being directed towards organic production here.”

Quadrupling markets?

Byrne argued that the ambition to quadruple the number of farmers producing organically means Ireland needs to quadruple our markets for organic produce.

“I saw no evidence that Bord Bia have any sort of plan to achieve that.

“How can you advise farmers to switch to organics, and incur additional costs, without having the necessary markets in place for what they will produce, or at least an ambition to find those markets,” he said.

Byrne emphasised the importance of a strategy to “significantly expand” exports of Irish organic produce.

This, he said, must be developed in conjunction with this push to expand the sector.

Incentivising conversion

The CEO of the IOA Gillian Westbrook also welcomed the announcement, emphasising the message that the scheme’s reopening will send to farmers.

“The IOA welcomes the Department’s plans to reopen the organic farming scheme as a means of incentivising and supporting farmers interested in converting to organic farming,” she said.

“This also sends a clear message to food business of the potential green growth opportunities through increased supply of homegrown organic produce as Irish and EU demand continues to increase year-on-year,” stated Westbrook.