Schrödinger’s cat, dead or alive?

Irish Examiner - Farming - - COUNTRY LIVING - Oliver Moore oliv­er­

What does quan­tum su­per­po­si­tion have to do with the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture’s at­ti­tude to the Or­ganic Farming Scheme (OFS)? Quan­tum su­per­po­si­tion refers to the state of be­ing both dead and alive at the same time. The idea comes, pri­mar­ily, from the Schrödinger’s Cat thought ex­per­i­ment. Schrödinger’s cat is both dead and alive at the same time. It shares a box with some poi­son in a glass con­tainer, a ra­dioac­tive source and an au­to­mated ham­mer. The ham­mer will shat­ter the glass, re­leas­ing the poi­son, if ra­dioac­tive ma­te­ri­als are de­tected in said box. In quan­tum terms, the cat, at a cer­tain point, is both dead and alive. How­ever, were you to don pro­tec­tive cloth­ing and have a sneak peek, you’d see a cat ei­ther dead or alive. Not a cat both dead and alive. This begs the ques­tion — when does one state end and the next be­gin? When does re­al­ity col­lapse into one pos­si­bil­ity or the other? Well, the depart­ment seems to be in a quan­tum co­nun­drum. It seems to both have and not have ex­tra funds in the ru­ral de­vel­op­ment plan for the OFS. It also seems to both want and not want growth in the or­ganic sec­tor.

Ac­cord­ing to a state­ment re­ceived some weeks ago from the depart­ment: “At this point in time all avail­able funds al­lo­cated have been com­mit­ted and all tar­gets set in the RDP have been met. In­clud­ing those in the ‘old’ Or­ganic Farming Scheme, we now have some 1,740 or­ganic farm­ers in the sys­tem. This is a ma­jor step for­ward.” So the cat was alive but now it’s dead. Upon fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion, this state­ment may well be the truth, but it’s not nec­es­sar­ily the whole truth and noth­ing but the truth. The whole truth is that monies can be re­al­lo­cated within the RDP, and there has been an un­der­spend in the RDP ev­ery year since at least 2010. The un­der­spend in 2016 was over €100m; it has been over €20m ev­ery year since 2010. Maybe the cat is alive?

The fu­ture will be dif­fer­ent, the depart­ment claims: “We fully an­tic­i­pate that based on cur­rent up­take and pro­jec­tions, the en­tire bud­get al­lo­ca­tion of some €4bn for the Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme will be spent and that the en­tire €2.19bn of EU co-fund­ing will be drawn down. It is ex­pected that the ma­jor­ity of funds will be spent by the end of 2020, al­though there will be some carry-over into 2021. “There will be no un­der­spend un­der the RDP and the €4bn of EU/ex­che­quer funds pro­vided for will be spent over the life­time of the pro­gramme.” Not­with­stand­ing the apt quan­tum con­fu­sion of both spend­ing every­thing and keep­ing a bit for later, the cat seems dead again. When specif­i­cally asked about re­al­lo­ca­tion of avail­able funds, the Depart­ment said: “while there is pro­vi­sion to amend the RDP to re­al­lo­cate funds, we have not made any such re­quests to date and have no such plans at this time.”

So it could take money from else­where and ap­ply it to the or­ganic farming scheme, but it chooses not to. The cat could have been kept alive, but no — it must stay dead. Os­ten­si­bly, there is also a De­part­men­tal tar­get for 5% util­is­able land area (ULA) farmed or­gan­i­cally. In­deed, this tar­get (of 220,000 hectares, up from 55,000 ha) was a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for in­creas­ing the pay­ment per hectare for or­ganic farm­ers when the scheme was last an­nounced. ( See the Depart­ment’s 2017 RDP Eval­u­a­tion pg 134). There’s hope for that cat yet! But wait. How can or­ganic ULA grow from the cur­rent 2% to 5% when farm­ers can­not even join the scheme? The cat? Muerto. Some­how, and de­spite this growth tar­get, the ar­rival of 942 ap­pli­ca­tions in April 2015 meant the scheme has been closed to en­trants since. Might be time to can­cel the Whiskas.

Health check: Is the Or­ganic Farming Scheme (OFS) dead or alive? Like Schrödinger’s cat, it seems it’s dead and alive at the same time.

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