I propose to take Questions Nos. 1017 and 1018 together.
An additional €4 million has been allocated to facilitate the re-opening of the Organic Farming Scheme. This will further develop the organic sector and contribute to the Programme for Government target to align the area under organic production in Ireland with the EU average. I was pleased to see my colleague Minister of State Hackett announce this re-opening last week and expect the scheme to be open to applicants on 1st March.
The Organic Farming Scheme will be open to applications from all sectors. In the event of the Scheme being over-subscribed, successful applications will be determined by a ranking and selection process. This selection process will allocate additional marks to applicants who are current licenced organic farmers who were not successful in gaining entry to the previous Scheme but have continued to farm organically. Marks will be awarded for each sector with the aim of increasing the area under organic production, while prioritising areas deemed to be in deficit. The areas deemed to be in deficit by the Organic Strategy Group are dairy, tillage and horticulture.
While the ranking and selection process will prioritise these areas, I believe that the level of funding provided for this new Scheme will facilitate the entry of some 400-500 farmers into the organic farming system. This should allow successful applications from enterprises other than those deemed to be in deficit.
There are a number of supports for farmers who are considering converting to organic including advisory bodies such as Teagasc and private advisors and the organic certification bodies. I would encourage all applicants to actively consider converting and to make use of the available supports.