After a long delay, the organic farming scheme (OFS) is now open for farmers to sign up, writes Oliver Moore.
The announcement was made earlier this week, and the scheme is opened with immediate effect. An organic strategy group, established by Minister of State with responsibility for the Organic Sector, Andrew Doyle, recommended its opening “on a targeted basis”.
“This is based on market demand and supply deficits in organic horticulture, cereals and dairy” the Minister said.
Market growth in Ireland and Europe has indeed been very strong in recent years.
The funding for the scheme was made possible “through savings identified in the current OFS budget” he added. “Mindful of the Group’s recommendation, a ranking and selection process will be put in place that will give priority to the areas that are deemed to be in deficit i.e. horticulture cereals and dairy.”
Upon signing up for the OFS, farmers enter into a contract for a minimum of five years, with standard rate payments of up to €220 per hectare a year during the conversion period and up to €170 per hectare when they have achieved full organic status.
Higher payment rates are available for organic horticultural and tillage farmers.
For horticulture holdings of over one hectare but under 6, payment is €300 per hectare in conversion and €200 full symbol.
For 6-60 hectares, the rate is €220 and €170 per hectare; finally, for over 60 hectares, payment is set at €60 and €30 respectively.
For tillage, payment rates are similar but on a bigger scale. The range is from 6-20 hectares, 20-60 hectares and over 60 hectares. The rates are €260/170 (in conversion, full symbol); €220/170 and €60/30 respectively, for in conversion and full symbol.
Payment rates are higher in conversion as produce cannot be sold as organic while in conversion.
According to the Department’s own documents (Measure 11 — the Organic Measure) “the overall objective of this Scheme is to deliver enhanced environmental and animal welfare benefits and to encourage producers to respond to the market demand for organically produced food”…“support is paid for carrying out the environmentally favourable production methods that are intrinsically linked to organic farming”.
Other department documents refer to the reduced risk of AMR (Antimicrobial resistance.
Some specifics stand out in the announcement. How many farmers will join the scheme, what scoring method will be used, is it right to focus primarily on these three sectors, and why was the money taken from the OFS and not elsewhere? Indeed, which aspect of the OFS have been de-funded to generate this cash?
Both organic certification bodies reacted positively to the announcement.
“Organic Trust welcomes the much anticipated re-opening of the Organic Farming Scheme. We endorse the targeted approach — which is designed to address deficits in the supply of organic products and produce in the organic dairy, tillage and horticulture sectors. We believe this considered strategy will strengthen and balance the organic sector for the future.”
IOA (formerly IOFGA), when asked to comment on the announcement, said “we are aware that the budget for the OFS is limited so in that context the emphasis on tillage, horticulture and dairy is simply because that is where the market deficits currently exist. These sectors are reliant on imported product to meet local market demands, and for that reason a targeted scheme, based singularly on market requirements makes sense. We need to address these deficits by increasing domestic supply, and the opening of an OFS scheme will encourage farmers to convert.”
The certification body also added: “the limited budget will be the deciding factor on the number of farmers that will join the OFS.”