Written Answers. - Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Ivan Yates

Question:

389 Mr. Yates asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the proposed changes in relation to the administration of the REP scheme as it relates to organic food production; and the details of the proposed alterations relative to the previous activities of the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association's role. [19767/00]

There are three main changes to the scheme. The first relates to stocking density where livestock production is involved. Previously, to qualify for payment under the measure farmers had to reach a minimum stocking density of 0.3 livestock units per hectare over the total forage area of the farm. Under the new rules, the minimum stocking level to be achieved for payment is 0.5 of a livestock unit on the entire farm, and payment will bepro rata at a rate of 0.5 livestock units per hectare. This new arrangement will allow for payment to small producers while giving them an opportunity to increase their stocking rate.

The second change is that if, during the course of a five year commitment, a participant elects to convert his or her farm to organic production methods then this change shall be deemed to constitute grounds for the transformation of the existing commitment into a new five year commitment as provided for under Article 20 of Commission Regulation 1750/1999. The practical effect of this change is that farmers participating in REPS who wish to convert to organic production methods can enter into a new five year plan in order to be eligible for payment under the supplementary measure.

The third change concerns the arrangements for inspection and certification. Three private bodies, the Irish Organic Farmers & Growers Association, Organic Trust and Demeter Standards Limited, were approved in 1993 by my Department which is the competent authority under the EU regulations governing organic production to carry out the functions of inspection and certification of organic crop producers. While EU regulations on organic farming did not extend to the livestock sector, my Department also recognised these bodies for the purposes of the organic supplementary measure under REPS. Following the extension of EU regulations to the organic livestock sector on 24 August, and on foot of the recommendations in the Bord Bia report on prospects for organic food in Ireland and the recommendations of the AgriFood 2010 Committee, my Department is putting in place measures to streamline the inspection system by providing a unified structure to which all organic producers and processors will have access. Currently my Department is having discussions with the three bodies as to how this can best be achieved.