Oliver Moore: Frustration at low response to report

The Organic Farmers Representative Body has expressed concerns over GLAS payment delays, and doubling up in both funding rules and farm inspections of for the organic sector.

“An excellent report was prepared by the previous committee — of which some of us were members — but it appears to have only reached the waste bin of the Department and got no further.”

That was the opinion which Labour deputy Willie Penrose stated at the joint Oireachtas committee on agriculture earlier this month.

Penrose’s reference was to the report that followed a meeting in October 2015 with the Organic Farmers Representative Body (OFRB).

The main OFRB concerns are as follows:

Payments not being made on time;

Double funding rules making the organic farming scheme uncompetitive against GLAS, and a refusal of the department to frontload payments to farmers with less than 20 ha to compensate for this;

Extra bureaucracy with an organic inspection system managed by certification bodies. Bord Bia or another similar entity could simply add organic to their list of other schemes and inspections, and/or a risk-based assessment could be introduced.

The double funding issue was explained by Padraig Finnegan of the OFRB: “Since the introduction of the double funding rule for farms of less than 20 ha, he or she cannot participate in both schemes. He or she must pick one or the other. I farm 30 ha and I am participating in both.

“I have to take out 10 ha to participate in the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, on which I receive no organic payment, yet I have to pay the certification bodies on the lot. 

"I am paid on the 20 ha included in the organic scheme and the 10 ha in GLAS, yet the certification bodies are paid on the entire 30 ha, although I receive no payment (for the extra 10 ha).”

The OFRB sees very little purpose and considerable cost in organic certification bodies. Padraig Finnegan stated: “We recommended that Bord Bia take on this role rather than the present arrangement where farmers must pay outrageous fees to private certification bodies.”

The costs are both high and disproportionate on the small farmer.

Pádraic Connelly, also of the OFRB, said: “Anything between 9% and 25% of the organic payment must be paid to the certification bodies.

“For example, a farmer with 12 hectares pays €2,200 to certification bodies while a farmer with 30 ha pays €3,000 to a certification body and a farmer with 50 ha must pay €3,100 to the body.”

Deputy Martin Kenny of the committee looked to a specific bottleneck: “The frontloading of payments for the first 20 hectares can be addressed without an awful lot of cost and it would make a big difference. The certification bodies seem to be acting as a block and seem to be one of the problems. They should not be, and there is no reason for that.”

There is a rotation of farmers into and then out of the Organic Farming Scheme under the present conditions, the OFRB claims.

Michael Lambert claimed: “We have statistics for the years from 2009 to 2016 that show it is a revolving door. Farmers enter, stay for five years and leave again. They do not stay the pace.”

The OFRB also had strong concerns about the lack of promotion of organic food in Ireland, the lack of lamb processors in the West, different interpretation of the organic standards in Ireland and other parts of the European Union — especially Austria — and the lack of a labour court type organisation for farmers.

As Pádraig Finnegan puts it: “Agriculture is one of the few sectors — if not the only one — that does not have any access to the Labour Court.”

This sort of entity could also mediate on any specific organic farming disputes: “We suggest that an independent office should be available to organic farmers to verify the necessity of some conditions, which, frankly, we find ridiculous.

“For example, there is a new rule on bedding in slatted accommodation. We disagree with the new ruling and we want to have this independently assessed.”


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