The Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) will reopen to new entrants in the first week of March, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Pippa Hackett has announced.

The re-opening, subject to EU Commission approval, is expected to result in an increase of up to 30% in the number of farmers farming organically in Ireland this year.

The OFS is an agri-environment measure under the Department’s Rural Development Programme (RDP).

Farmers entering the scheme could qualify for yearly payments of up to €220/ha during the conversion period and up to €170/ha when they have achieved full organic status.

Higher payment rates are available for organic horticulture and tillage farmers.

Announcing the opening of the scheme, Minister Hackett said:

“We expect 400-500 new farmers to be able to join the scheme.

That represents a significant added investment organic farming which we can make because of the additional €4 million we secured in this year’s budget.

“It will also help us meet the targets set out in the Programme for Government to align Ireland’s organic land area with that of the current EU average over the lifetime of this government.”

The OFS is one of the most successful schemes under the current RDP. The target for the RDP was to attract some 16,000ha of new land into production and to support 46,000ha of converted land.

These targets have been exceeded as there are now approximately 74,000ha under organic production. There are currently 1,460 farmers participating in the current OFS.

Applicants must declare their organic land in their annual Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) declaration, which will be taken into consideration when determining entry into the scheme.

Approvals letters to all successful applicants will likely issue in October, while the initial OFS payment is expected to issue in November of this year.

Encouraging farmers to apply for the scheme, the minister said: “I am happy to prioritise those sectors for which most market demand exists, namely the dairy, horticulture and tillage sectors, but I also want to encourage young farmers to convert to organic farming so I will be making provision in the selection process to achieve this.

“I will also ensure that farmers who were not successful in gaining entry to the previous scheme but who have continued to farm organically, have their commitment acknowledged, through priority access.”

Minister Hackett concluded, stating: “The scheme and funding are closely aligned to the targets in the National Organic Farming Strategy to 2025 and will help us deliver on them.”