Agriculture Minister of State Andrew Doyle TD replies to this columnist’s questions for a second week.
It appears that the previous, underwhelming organic action plan of 2013-2015 has not been replaced . Why is this?
I cannot accept any view of the 2013 Organic Farming Action Plan as “underwhelming”. Anybody working in this field would recognise these as the key challenges facing the sector and real progress was made in tackling these over the course of the plan. We have seen a major increase in the organic sector in recent years, both in terms of producers and in terms of value.
The new Organic Farming Scheme under the RDP 2014-2020 was a major factor in driving this, while the detailed review of the scheme carried out as part of the action plan identified areas of weakness which were addressed in the design of the new scheme.
Leakage from the sector had been identified as a key challenge and this was addressed by increasing the maintenance payment rate for established organic farmers by 60% to €170 per hectare. We have also introduced an additional rate for tillage farmers as I am aware of the high cost of sourcing organic feed.
This is one area that is impeding the growth of the sector and I believe this initiative will assist in overcoming this difficulty. The success of the new scheme, speaks for itself: Over 880 applications were received under the first tranche which closed for applications in May 2015, and most of these were new conversions.
A further tranche was opened in December 2015 in which 332 applications were submitted. This level of uptake is unparalleled.
As regards markets, Bord Bia was tasked with identifying new outlets for organic produce both at home and abroad. We are witnessing quite remarkable growth rates as a result.
By any standards the Organic Action Plan has been a significant success.
I will be asking the Organic Focus Group to review the previous plan and report back to me on areas which they believe now need further development. This will form the core of a new strategy going forward.
There is a big concentration of processing in organic milk and especially organic meat. Do you have any concerns with regard to competition?
We have to recognise that organics is only in its infancy in Ireland; it is to be expected that initial growth will be driven by a small number of pioneering enterprises.
The initial processors have seen and grasped the opportunity offered by a growing organic market and this same opportunity is available to others who have the vision to tap into a sector which is witnessing unprecedented growth.
There are currently two significant players in the organic milk sector; this in a sector which is still small with less than 30 organic milk producers in Ireland. In the meat processing industry I am confident that with the growth of the sector other processors will see the opportunities that exist in the organic sector especially in the export market.
Why is department investment so poor in organics?
My department has dramatically increased payments under the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS). Under the previous RDP a total of approximately €4.5m was spent annually on the OFS.
This has risen to €10m annually under the current RDP, effectively doubling the budget. And of course organic farmers also benefit from all the other various supports and payments. We will continue to provide the resources and supports the sector needs.
However, we also need to target this investment. We have built a momentum, we know what’s coming on stream over the next five years, and we need to ensure that this product gets the market and receives the premium it deserves.
That more than anything else will be the incentive that drives this sector forward.
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