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.
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 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 terms and conditions of the Scheme state that an applicant must reach a minimum ranking of 25 marks to be deemed eligible for consideration for inclusion in the Scheme. They further state that the number of applications to be accepted into the Scheme will be determined by funding and that the submission of a valid application does not guarantee entry to the Scheme.
No changes were made to the minimum ranking of 25 marks - it is the same as in previous OFS under the current RDP. Once applicants reached the minimum ranking of 25 and met the other eligibility criteria, they were then assessed under the Ranking and Selection system in accordance with the criteria agreed by the Organic Sector Strategy Group.
The person named, although eligible for consideration, did not score high enough to be selected in this tranche. Their score was below the minimum score that was ultimately accepted into the Scheme. It should also be noted that their major enterprise was not one of the targeted enterprises identified by the Organic Strategy Group.
It is important to note that this is 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.