Funding of €256 million announced for the organic farming sector in the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the result of several years’ hard lobbying, and is deserved, according to the chair of the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA’s) organics project team.

Nigel Reneghan was responding to criticism aimed at last week’s announcement by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, that CAP 2023-2027 is set to inject €256 million into the sector.

This huge jump in organics funding from just €56 million (under the current CAP) has attracted some criticism, much of it as a result of the funding announcement for the suckler and sheep schemes in the next CAP: the former was granted €260 million while €100 million was announced for the latter.

These allocations spurred Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) president, Declan Kelleher, to label the minister’s cattle and sheep strategies as being in “disarray”.

Agriland understands that at an IFA protest last week, some of its members also criticised the extent of the organics allocation.

“As an organisation, our slogan has always been ‘unity, strength and delivery’ and we should be standing together,” Reneghan told Agriland.

“At this time, it doesn’t help us, as an organisation or as a lobbying group, when one sector of the organisation has got a major victory – has lobbied hard for it and received it – and then you have other sectors and people within the organisation saying take money from the organics sector,” he added.

Organics – lobbied and delivered

“All I can say is, our organic project team put a lot of effort into this, led by myself, and we have delivered.

“That is not to take away from any other sector, but we have done what we set out to do,” he told Agriland.

While he agreed that conversations about the funding allocations – announced under the CAP Strategic Plan (CSP) – were required and valid, he added that without specific details of the various schemes, such conversations were based on perception and were not helpful.

Chair of the IFA’s organics project team, Nigel Reneghan

“Until we have the detail of something, all you are doing is putting ideas and perceptions out there. That is the problem, it is not based on fact,” he said.

Organics – support and funding

He said the organics project team has been seeking and will continue to seek €5.20/ha for conversion and €4.80/ha for maintenance under a new organic farming scheme.

“We could justify that, because if you look at our second-biggest crop – wild bird cover –  this is paid at over €800/ha and that is just to feed the birds,” the IFA organics chair said.

It is expected that the rate of payment for conversion and maintenance is set to increase significantly above the current rates of €270 and €180.

But, what is crucial to the success of any organic farming scheme in Ireland is the facilitation of knowledge transfer; adequate funding for conversion and maintenance; and a market-driven sector, he added.

“We are looking for this to be market-driven rather than driven by incentives,” he said.

“If you increase the amount of beef, sheep, poultry, carrots, potatoes and veg by incentivising people to go into certain areas you will oversupply the market and collapse the price – that is very, very important,” he said.

Organics – low uptake

Commenting on the low uptake of the current organic farming scheme – also a factor in the current upset caused by the funding hike – the organics chair, who converted himself just three years ago, said:

“The reason why, historically, there has been a problem with organics is because there has been a lack of knowledge transfer in the sector. People have been afraid to go into it because of that lack of knowledge transfer.”

The opening of the Results Based Environment Agri Pilot Programme (REAP) scheme also impacted uptake, forcing farmers to choose between the two. With higher per-hectare payments, REAP was the more popular.

“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.

“So we hope that farmers will be facilitated either through a standalone organics scheme, or alongside an environmental scheme,” he added.