The Organic Farming Scheme is one of the most successful schemes under our current Rural Development Programme. A budget of €56m was allocated to fund the Scheme opened during the period 2014 to 2020 which was the largest allocation ever to an Organics support scheme.
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. 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.
Indeed, 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
As a further vote of confidence in the organics sector by this Government, my colleague Minister Doyle established an Organics Strategy Group last year 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 areas 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.
It is important to note that this is a targeted re-opening and that I would 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.
As regards the re-opening, the Scheme remained opened for applications up to the 19 December and a total of 225 applications were received. A total of 58 applications were either withdrawn or were deemed ineligible. Following the ranking and selection process, one applicant withdrew, 55 were successful and 111 farmers received letters informing them that they had been unsuccessful. All unsuccessful applicants were given a right of appeal to the Organic Unit of my Department. 34 appeals have been received to date.