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Minister Sargent launches new stand-alone Organic Farming Scheme

Mr Trevor Sargent T.D., Minister of State with responsibility for Food and Horticulture at the Department of Agriculture and Food, today launched a new scheme to support organic farmers. The Organic Farming Scheme is co-funded by the EU and the Irish taxpayer and is part of Ireland's Rural Development Programme 2007-2013.

Minister Sargent said that the objective of the new Organic Farming Scheme is to deliver enhanced environmental and animal welfare benefits and to encourage producers to respond to the market demand for organically produced food. It complements the main agri-environment measure in the Programme, the new Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS 4) which was launched earlier this week by Minister Mary Coughlan. Organic farmers can participate in REPS as well, but for the first time they have a choice. "I see this as an important change," Minister Sargent said. "Up to now, organic farmers had to be in REPS to get support payments. Some farmers might have considered the organic option, but didn't find that joining REPS as well would have suited their particular situation. These would include producers of foods for which consumer demand is greatly in excess of what the Irish organic sector can supply at present. These would be small-scale horticultural producers, for example, or large-scale conventional tillage producers who might be interested in converting part of their land to organic cereal production to meet the big demand for organic feed.

"The majority of producers will continue to participate in both REPS and the Organic Farming Scheme and we will be encouraging them to do so in order that they continue to avail of the maximum level of payments," Minister Sargent said. In line with the social partnership agreement, Towards 2016, the payment rates are increased by 17% compared to the previous programme. This means that between REPS 4 and the new Organic Farming Scheme an organic farmer will now be able to qualify for up to €21,650 during the conversion period and €15,860 a year with full organic status. An organic producer who chooses not to join REPS will still qualify for up to €11,660 during the conversion period and €5,830 a year once he or she has full organic status.

As a further incentive to encourage non-REPS farmers solely involved in tillage production to convert to organic farming, Minister Sargent announced an additional payment of €240 per hectare available in the in-conversion period, up to a maximum of 40 hectares, provided they grow green cover crops during that period which will greatly reduce the need to apply fertiliser subsequently. This measure will be of particular interest to tillage farmers wishing to convert part of their holdings to organic production. "I hope that this will result in a considerable increase in organic cereal output over the next few years," the Minister said. "The cost of imported organic feed is a major obstacle to the growth of the sector. A much greater supply of home-grown organic feed is essential if we are to develop the beef and dairying areas, as well as organic pig and poultry production.

The new Scheme should attract more conventional producers to go organic, which is in line with the Government's commitment to increase the land area under organic production. "The new Programme for Government sets a target to convert a minimum 5% of acreage to organic farmland by 2012. I believe this target, while challenging, is achievable," Minister Sargent said.

As well as direct payments to farmers, the Department also offers significant capital grants both to farmers and to processors under the Schemes of Grant Aid for the Development of the Organic Sector. The current Schemes were launched in June this year and they provide grant aid for investments by farmers and processors in equipment and facilities for preparation, grading, packing, storage, distribution and sale of organic products. The Schemes provide grant aid of 40% of the cost up to a maximum grant of €60,000 in the case of on-farm investments and €500,000 for investments off-farm. The Minister said that he was pleased to note that applicants were already showing significant interest in the Schemes.

Minister Sargent was speaking at the County Wexford Organic Centre in Cushinstown where he was attending an organic farm walk. The farm walk at the Wexford Organic Centre was part of a programme of organic farm open days held throughout the country to promote organic farming systems, organised jointly by the Department of Agriculture & Food and Teagasc.

While in Wexford Minister Sargent took the opportunity to launch the County Wexford Farmers' Market website. This initiative, by the County Wexford Farmers' Markets committee, is further evidence of the growth of direct selling in Ireland. Minister Sargent said he was committed "to encouraging more direct selling and highlighted the opportunities that Farmers' Markets are now providing for testing out new products and the potential for establishing strong links between producers and consumers."

11 August, 2007

Date Released: 11 August 2007