The Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) has re-opened for two months and is accepting applications from 1 March to 30 April 2021. Producers who are already farming organically but not participating in a scheme, as well as those committed to converting, or already undergoing conversion, are eligible to apply.
A total of 1,447 producers received payments under the OFS in 2020 and funding allocated to the 2021 scheme is expected to allow between 400 and 500 new producers to participate.
The terms and conditions of the scheme advises that fully converted organic land parcels will be eligible for a contract of up to three years, while land parcels taken into the scheme that are undergoing conversion to organic status will be eligible for a contract of up to five years. Payment rates vary across enterprises, with the highest level of payment attainable by horticultural producers, followed by tillage farmers and then all other enterprises, as detailed in Tables 1-3. As the tables demonstrate, payment rates are tiered, with a significantly higher payment rate available for the two-year conservation period, where applicable.
The following are the main eligibility criteria producers must meet to be accepted into the scheme:
As mentioned, the number of applications accepted into the scheme will be based on the funding allocation, meaning all applications deemed eligible under the entry criteria will not be accepted.
Previous commentary on the OFS raised the fact that there is a preference in this intake for horticulture, tillage and dairy farmers, and this is very much reflected in the selection criteria table, with these enterprises awarded 10 times the marks of sheep and suckler/cattle enterprises. This is termed as achieving sectoral balance and will be a blow to sheep and beef farmers thinking of converting.
The terms and conditions state: “If an applicant is awarded marks for either horticulture, cereals or dairy as the predominant organic enterprise under Sectoral Balance Enterprise, then they must maintain this enterprise and the baseline area under this enterprise for the full duration of the OFS contract. Failure to comply with this condition may result in an appropriate penalty.”
Eligible Licensed Organic Operators who applied for OFS in 2018 and were unsuccessful but continued to farm organically in 2019 and 2020 are also given priority, as are young farmers. The scheme is also weighted in favour of producers with a larger organic area.
The latest scheme entry criteria also allows for partial conversion of the holding to organic farming, under certain criteria: “If both organic and conventional crops are to be produced, different species of plant or different varieties that can be easily differentiated at all stages of growth and production must be used. Similarly, if both organic and conventional livestock are to be produced, different species must be involved.” It should be noted that total conversion applicants are awarded more marks, although the overall marks in this section are small.
Applications must be made online through agfood.ie, either in an individual capacity or via an approved agent. A guide to the application process is available on the website, while any queries in relation to an application should be directed to Organic@agriculture.gov.ie or 076-106 4451.