The new Organic Farming Scheme under the current Rural Development Programme has proved extremely successful, attracting more new applicants than any scheme previously, and encouraging a significant number of Irish farmers to convert to organic farming systems. 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.
The Organic Sector Strategy Group, which was established earlier this year, was tasked with developing a strategy for the development of the Organic Sector for the period up to 2025 and with assessing the justification for a targeted reopening of the Organic Farming Scheme, looking to best economic and environmental outcomes, in accordance with the Group’s terms of reference.
A public consultation process provided an opportunity for all interested parties to contribute to the development of the new strategic plan. This public consultation process combined with an Organic Processing Survey ensured that stakeholders had their views considered in building on the progress made and providing clear direction for further development of the Organic Sector for the next seven years.
According to 2017 Bord Bia research, categories with the greatest growth potential in the domestic market are fruit and vegetables, and dairy. Notwithstanding the fact that a large proportion of the total organic tillage crop is dedicated to oats, there is insufficient supply to meet demand. Furthermore, the insufficient supply of organic cereals and proteins is inhibiting the growth of the organic dairy, meat, and aquaculture sectors. This deficit in supply also necessitates importation which increases costs of production and therefore impacts competitiveness. The overriding challenge is to ensure that the development of production of organic food products is in line with market requirements and consumer demand. This will be the key to long term sustainable growth of the Irish Organic Food Sector.
Based on this assessment, the Group considered that there is sufficient market demand to justify the reopening of the Organic Farming Scheme on a targeted basis focussing on areas that are in deficit and where market demand is growing. In addition, the reopening of the Scheme is perceived as one of the most important steps in the future direction and development of the Sector. The Group unanimously agreed that the areas to be targeted should be organic horticulture, cereals and dairy.
Based on the recommendation of this Group, the Organic Farming Scheme was re-opened on 19 November, 2018. An allocation of €1.25m has been provided to facilitate the re-opening of this Scheme. Applications for the scheme must be made online but there will be no requirement to use an Agricultural Adviser to make the applications. The closing date for submission of completed online applications is 19 December 2018.
All registered organic farmers are eligible to apply for the Organic Farming Scheme. Priority will be given to those areas deemed to be in deficit i.e. horticulture, tillage and dairy. The size of the holdings and the enterprise type in each case will determine the number of farmers accepted into the scheme.