A number of factors contributed to the low numbers of applicants for the Organic Farm Scheme (OFS), chair of the IFA organic project team Nigel Renaghan has said.

The Department of Agriculture reported just 317 applications to the scheme, despite increased funding to facilitate between 400 and 500 new applicants.

“The opening of the REAP scheme forced farmers to decide between the two, with REAP offering a significantly higher per-hectare payment.

“The number of applicants highlights the lack of support available to the organic sector,” Renaghan said.

“Also, the points-based system discouraged livestock farmers from applying.

“Organic farmers must not be excluded from other agri-environmental schemes. It’s contradictory and it’s discriminating against organic farmers.”

Unrealistic aim

The IFA has described the programme for Government aim to align the area under organic production with the EU average of 7.5% as unrealistic, “due to a lack of investment, research and advisory services”.

An IFA delegation met with Teagasc last week to address some of these issues.

As part of the next CAP programme, the IFA will be putting proposals forward for a ‘fit-for-purpose’ organics scheme that will help Ireland achieve its 2030 objectives.

“The OFS must be continued under the new CAP and payment rates increased to €520/ha for farmers in conversion and €470/ha for flat-rate payments,” Renaghan continued.

“The rate of grant aid under the capital investment scheme must also increase to 60% to allow for the investment commitment of farmers converting to organic farming.”

The IFA has said the implementation of the organic strategy document is another contentious point.