Farmers in Cork account for the highest number of participants in the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS). As detailed in Table 1, there were 239 new applications in the current tranche from farmers converting to organics.

There were also 157 applications from farmers whose contract is due to expire at the end of 2022 and 69 existing OFS applicants who submitted plans in 2021 and 2022.

There has also been a sharp increase in interest in organics in Donegal and Mayo, with 220 new OFS applications.

Interest in organics in these counties was relatively low prior to the current tranche and reports indicate the removal of the minimum stocking rate of 0.5LU/ha has had a role in enticing more sheep farmers to opt for organics.

Kerry and Galway also recorded high numbers of new entrants at 165 and 152 farmers, respectively, opting to convert.

This level of interest falls in to the same bracket as Kerry and Galway and is not unexpected relative to the size of the counties and number of farmers.

It is another western county, however, that is grabbing the attention, with Roscommon now possessing 379 farmers which will be participating in the OFS from 1 January onwards.

This can be broken down into 192 new applicants, 143 farmers coming to the end of their contract in 2022 and 44 farmers who applied previously in 2021 and 2022.

Contrasting uptake

In contrast, counties in the east of the country have been much slower to convert to organics. This is seen most in Louth, where there are just 16 holdings farming organically or converting.

The number is similar in Dublin, but with a lower land base. Carlow and Waterford remain under the 50 holdings mark.

Continued growth

The figures in Table 1 were contained in a scheme update shared by Jack Nolan, senior inspector at the Department of Agriculture with responsibility for organics and market supports.

In outlining growth of almost 150% in the number of farmers committing to farm organically during the last 12 months, Nolan thanked advisers for their efforts in facilitating the submission of 2,131 new applications and 1,292 renewal applications by the 9 December deadline.

Minister Pippa Hackett reported last week that all eligible applications will be approved in 2023.

The Department of Agriculture is expecting continued growth in OFS participation and outlines that there is potential to double the number of farmers converting to organics in 2023.