The organic farming scheme is one of the most successful schemes under our current rural development programme. A budget of €56 million was allocated to fund the scheme 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 new land converted and the maintenance of organic land. Latest figures indicate that there are now some 72,000 ha under organic production, an increase of nearly 50% on the position at the start of the programme in 2014.
The organic farming scheme, OFS, was reopened last year on a targeted basis on foot of a recommendation from the organic sector strategy group. This group included representatives from a broad range of stakeholders, among them the farming representative organisations, processors and organic control bodies. Following assessment by the group, it recommended targeting sectors 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. There was acknowledgment that the budget was limited given the success of the current scheme and the overall spending within the rural development programme.
It is important to note that the selection criteria used could only be revised within the parameters approved by the Commission under the current rural development programme. It should also be noted that based on the selection criteria used, the predominant farming enterprises in 95% of the unsuccessful applications were not from the targeted sectors. While a maximum of 50 marks could be obtained in respect of the size of the farm, the sectoral balance enterprise marking was weighted in favour of the targeted enterprises. The horticultural enterprises, which tend to be smaller in size, gained a maximum mark of 50 under this criterion.
This was a targeted reopening and I fully expect that there will be a new organics scheme under the next Common Agricultural Policy. Ranking and selection criteria to facilitate assessment of applications will be reviewed and may be revised in the context of a new organic farming scheme at that stage.