The Department of Agriculture launched a new organics scheme this year which has proved to be hugely successful since its launch, attracting 870 applications in its first tranche.

To put this in context, the highest number of applications ever received previously was 380 applications in 2010. In addition, over 500 of the 870 applicants concerned are new entrants to organic farming.

The highest number of new entrants to organic farming heretofore was 158, in 2009.

According to Paul Dillon, Assistant Secretary General, Department of Agriculture by any standards, the new scheme is a major success.

“We have already met most if not all of our targets for the entire RDP period in this first intake of applications,” he told a hearing off the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture this week.

There are also 720 participants in the existing or ‘old’ Organic Farming Scheme, which means that when all applications into the new scheme have been processed and approved, we should have some 1,600 organic farmers in the system.

“This is a major step forward,” he said.

“Together, these farmers manage about 60,000 hectares of land and because of the structures we are putting in place, we hope to secure this land under organic contract for at least the next five years.

“For the first time, this allows us to plan ahead with confidence in terms of an organic food market,” Dillion said.

Payment rates

The new Organic Farming Scheme was launched in April this year with a budget of €52m over the lifetime of the RDP.

It provides for significantly increased rates of payments to all Organic farmers, irrespective of sector.

By way of example, the standard rate payment, which applies to most farmers, including livestock farmers, was €106/ha under the old scheme; under the new scheme this has been increased to €170/ha which is a 60% increase.

In addition, the area on which full payment can be made has been increased from 55ha to 60ha.

The new Scheme also specifically targets tillage farmers for the first time, as this is an area which was identified as in deficit and is of key importance both in its own right and as a source of home-grown organic feed for the livestock sector.

For the same reason, the new Scheme also encourages the cultivation of red-clover as a high protein dry matter fodder crop, again for the purpose of building supplies of organic feedstuffs.