The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) has welcomed the move by Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), Pippa Hackett to reopen the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) to new entrants on March 9, 2022.

ICSA Organics chair, Fergal Byrne said: “This is welcome news, particularly as proposed changes to the scheme should make it more appealing to full-time farmers and those on marginal lands.

“Payments will now likely be made on 70ha – up from 60ha – and extensively stocked farmers will only need to satisfy the minimum stocking levels that apply under the Area of Natural Constraints Scheme (ANC).”

However, the ICSA said more clarity is needed around the shape the Organic Farming Scheme will take under the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) 2023-2027.

“Speculation that payments under the organics scheme will increase by just €30/ha from 2023 needs to be addressed if the department [is] serious about persuading a significant number of farmers to switch to organics. An increase of €30/ha simply does not go far enough,” Byrne continued.

Marketing of organic produce

ICSA said that it is also concerned that “such little importance” is being placed on the marketing of organic beef and lamb.

“Over the last number of weeks, we have listened to Bord Bia outline [its] plans for 2022 and beyond as part of [the] Meat Marketing Seminar. Organic meat was barely mentioned,” Byrne added.

“This is very worrying considering the amount of CAP funds that are being directed towards organic production here.

“The ambition to quadruple the number of farmers producing organically means we need to quadruple our markets for organic produce, yet I saw no evidence that Bord Bia have any sort of plan to achieve that,” he continued.

“How can you advise farmers to switch to organics – and incur additional costs – without having the necessary markets in place for what they will produce, or at least an ambition to find those markets?”

The ICSA said that it is critical that a strategy to significantly expand exports of Irish organic produce is developed in conjunction with the push to expand the sector.