The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has welcomed an increase in Budget 2021 for the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS), but has warned that “previous mistakes” with the scheme must not be repeated.
Yesterday’s budget confirmed that funding for the OFS has been increased by 33% to allow it to be re-opened for new entrants.
An extra €4 million has been added to the budget, taking the total fund to €16 million.
The overall objective of the scheme is to deliver enhanced environmental and animal welfare benefits and to encourage producers to respond to the market demand for organically produced food.
The scheme is jointly funded by the European Union and the National Exchequer and is administered by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
IFA Organic Project Team chairman Nigel Renaghan said: “The scheme last re-opened in November 2018 for a four-week period.
“There was a 75% rejection rate of applicants because of a flawed points-based system in which smaller land-based applicants were discriminated against.
The majority of applicants were rejected despite having made significant investments to convert to organic farming.
“It was a flawed system that led farmers up the garden path. The re-opening of the scheme must be well thought out and we cannot have a situation where farmers are rejected in such a manner again,” he said.
The IFA says rejected applicants from the last re-opening of the scheme must be prioritised and allowed access into the scheme with immediate effect.
The association adds that farmers who continued to farm organically and who were rejected must be paid retrospectively.
“Ireland has one of the lowest levels of organic farming in the EU, with just 2% of land under organic production compared to an EU average of 8%,” said Renaghan.
“In order to increase this in line with the Farm to Fork strategy organic farmers must be supported. The organic sector is currently under resourced in relation to investment, research and advisory services.
There has to be a balance between the supply and demand for organic produce to maintain farm gate price.
“Further marketing and knowledge transfer supports must be introduced to establish this,” concluded Renaghan.