The Organic Farming Scheme is one of the most successful schemes under our current Rural Development Programme. The Scheme has more than achieved its targets in terms of new land converted and the maintenance of organic land.
As a further vote of confidence in the organics sector by this Government, my colleague Minister Doyle established an Organic Sector Strategy Group last year, comprising relevant stakeholders and state bodies. The Group recommended re-opening the Scheme but on a targeted basis. The sectors targeted were those 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. Selection criteria with revised marking, which would facilitate such a targeted reopening, were agreed by the Group. In assessing the case for re-opening the Scheme, the Group recognised 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 Organic Farming 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; 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.
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.