The Organic Farming Scheme is one of the most successful schemes under our current Rural Development Programme with a budget of €56m allocated for the period 2014 to 2020.
The Scheme has more than achieved its targets in terms of new land converted and the maintenance of organic land. The area of land under organic production has expanded dramatically as a direct result of my Department's investment. The target for the RDP was to attract some 16,000 hectares of new land into production and to support 46,000 hectares of converted land. These targets have been more than exceeded. Latest figures indicate that there are now some 72,000 hectares under organic production, an increase of nearly 50% on the position at the start of the Programme in 2014.
Last year, my colleague Minister Doyle established an Organics Strategy Group comprising relevant stakeholders and state bodies. Part of the remit of the Strategy Group was to consider the case for a possible re-opening of the Organic Farming Scheme. They recommended that it should be re-opened but on a targeted basis. The sectors targeted were areas for which there is a clear market demand, and which are critical to the further development of the Organic Sector, namely horticulture, cereals and dairy. This recommendation acknowledged that the budget was very limited given the success of the current scheme and the overall spending within the RDP.
The targeted Scheme was opened for applications up to 19th December 2018 and a total of 225 applications were received. A total of 58 applications were either withdrawn or were deemed ineligible. The remaining 167 applications underwent Ranking and Selection in accordance with the criteria outlined in the Terms and Conditions of the Scheme. As evident in those Terms, preference was given to the targeted sectors - Horticulture, Cereals and Dairy.
Following the ranking and selection process, one applicant withdrew, 55 were successful and 111 farmers received letters informing them that they had been unsuccessful. The Deputy should be aware that in 95% of the unsuccessful applications, the predominant enterprises were not from the targeted sectors identified when the Scheme was launched. All unsuccessful applicants, including the person named, were given a right of appeal to the Organic Unit of my Department. To date, no appeal has been received from the person named.
It is important to note that this was a targeted re-opening and that I fully expect that there will be a new Organics Scheme under the next CAP. I would encourage all stakeholders to make their views known on the shape of this future scheme as part of the wider CAP consultation process.