Re­open scheme, say or­ganic groups

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

Both of the coun­try’s main or­ganic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion bod­ies — IOFGA and the Or­ganic Trust — have been mak­ing strong rep­re­sen­ta­tions to the Depart­ment over the fail­ure to re­open the Or­ganic Farm­ing Scheme (OFS).

The Or­ganic Trust points out that there are op­por­tu­ni­ties for re­al­lo­ca­tion of un­der­spends.

The cer­ti­fi­ca­tion body has writ­ten to the Depart­ment and to Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter of State An­drew Doyle in or­der to ear­mark “var­i­ous un­der­spends in other schemes such as the Ge­nomic Scheme and asked for a re-al­lo­ca­tion of such un­der­spends to the OFS”. How­ever, the Depart­ment in­formed the Or­ganic Trust, stat­ing that “th­ese bud­gets were not so ‘fluid’ and could not be read­ily re-al­lo­cated — spe­cific per­mis­sion would have to be sought from the Brus­sels”.

The Or­ganic Trust then re­quested of the Depart­ment that such per­mis­sion be sought from the EU.

“No sub­se­quent up­date was pro­vided,” the Or­ganic Trust stated, adding that its re­quests for meet­ings to progress the mat­ter have gone unan­swered.

“The Or­ganic Trust strongly sup­ports the re­open­ing of the OFS. Sev­eral hun­dred ap­pli­ca­tion packs have been despatched since 01.01.2016 to those in­ter­ested in con­vert­ing to or­ganic pro­duc­tion — enquiries are be­ing re­ceived on a daily ba­sis and a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of those en­quir­ing have al­ready un­der­taken the Fetac Level 5 com­pul­sory course in or­ganic pro­duc­tion — many of th­ese were not quite ready to con­vert when the scheme re-opened in the au­tumn of 2015 but have since put the build­ing blocks in place to fa­cil­i­tate con­ver­sion to or­ganic pro­duc­tion.” IOFGA too favour re­open­ing the OFS and have also made rep­re­sen­ta­tions to this ef­fect.

Gil­lian West­brook of IOFGA points out that there are three sec­tors in par­tic­u­lar within or­ganic where there is a real de­mand — namely tillage, hor­ti­cul­ture and di­ary.

More Irish grown or­ganic tillage is es­pe­cially im­por­tant to con­sider, and one of the many rea­sons is Brexit, West­brook em­pha­sises. She notes that it’s not just ce­re­als from the UK be­ing used as feed on Irish farms — or­ganic and con­ven­tional — but the UK is also a hub for ce­re­als im­por­ta­tion from else­where. So any tar­iffs on prod­uct into and out of the UK could have neg­a­tive cost im­pli­ca­tions in Ire­land. This is es­pe­cially the case when it’s not cur­rently pos­si­ble for tillage farm­ers, or farm­ers con­sid­er­ing tillage, to join the OFS. She adds: “There is TAMS money left un­claimed, GLAS hasn’t been all spent. It’s not big money the OFS needs — it’s only a few mil­lion. Look at what would hap­pen if more or­ganic tillage farm­ers came in — ev­ery­one ben­e­fits. There is a deficit in por­ridge, in feed. Tillage could lead to the de­vel­op­ment of Irish or­ganic bak­ery prod­ucts. We need to be am­bi­tious. The gross profit per hectare (for or­ganic tillage) is at­trac­tive and the pay­ments are good.” Gil­lian adds: “One of the rea­sons that we can’t get more pro­cessed or­ganic dairy is be­cause of lack of sup­ply for the big­ger con­tracts.”

The lack of “a co­her­ent strat­egy” is frus­trat­ing. “Suc­cess­ful coun­tries (in terms of num­bers con­vert­ing to or­ganic) have a steady flow of peo­ple com­ing in, and that’s at­trac­tive for farm­ers. In Ire­land, there’s noth­ing for five years at a time. So in 2020 ev­ery­one is out of or­gan­ics. So what con­fi­dence does that give pro­ces­sors? They need a con­ti­nu­ity of sup­ply. Yet at a pol­icy level the schemes open and close.” The logic be­hind fund­ing or­ganic is clearly laid out in nu­mer­ous EU as well as in Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture doc­u­ments. “Sup­port is paid for car­ry­ing out the en­vi­ron­men­tally favourable pro­duc­tion meth­ods which are in­trin­si­cally linked to or­ganic pro­duc­tion” states the or­ganic farm­ing mea­sure it­self (Mea­sure 11).

It adds that or­ganic farm­ing con­trib­utes to var­i­ous “ru­ral de­vel­op­ment ob­jec­tives and pri­or­i­ties”. Th­ese are listed as bio­di­ver­sity, water man­age­ment (fer­tiliser and pes­ti­cide man­age­ment), prevent­ing soil ero­sion and im­prov­ing soil man­age­ment, re­source ef­fi­ciency and a shift to­wards a low car­bon and cli­mate re­silient econ­omy, fos­ter­ing car­bon restora­tion and se­ques­tra­tion. Frus­trat­ingly, as Gil­lian West­brook puts it: “We’ve an ex­ist­ing tar­get for 5% or­ganic — but we ringfence fund­ing to get 2%. It’s like pay­ing for a two-bed­room house and then ex­pect­ing a five-bed­room house. It makes no sense.”

Gil­lian West­brook, IOFGA, says there is huge de­mand in tillage, hor­ti­cul­ture and dairy for the re­open­ing of the or­ganic scheme

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