The terms of the Organic Farming Scheme actively discriminate against extensive farming systems, Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) spokesperson Henry O’Donnell has said.

Currently, the maximum payment rate can only be achieved for livestock farmers if they maintain a minimum stocking rate of 0.5 LU/ha with a reduced payment for those who don’t achieve this.

“Many of these farmers are restricted by national and EU law from carrying higher stocking rates, such as those farming on natura 2000 sites,” O’Donnell said.

“This issue was discussed in our meeting with Minister of State Pippa Hackett, where we got confirmation from a Department official that the decision to introduce this was made in Ireland and is not an EU requirement.”

Denied access

The INHFA has also highlighted that many farmers on smaller holdings in GLAS are having to forfeit organic payments in order to comply.

“At the same time, we see additional payments for larger holdings of 50ha or more.

“These issues come in addition to the marking system that undermines access to the scheme for beef and sheep farmers,” O’Donnell continued.

The EU Farm to Fork strategy proposes that at least 25% of the EU’s utilisable agricultural area be under organic farming by 2030.

“In Ireland, with less than 2% currently, we are light years away from this and while we hear talk of progress, farmers that are willing to make the transition are deliberately denied access to the organic scheme.”