A new organic farming scheme will offer increased payments to encourage more farmers to enter the sector, Tom Hayes, the Minister of State with responsibility for organic farming has announced.
Farmers must sign up for five years under the scheme and will receive up to €220 per hectare a year while they are converting to organic farming.
They will receive up to €170 per hectare when they have achieved full organic status. This is an increase of 60 per cent of payments under the previous scheme, according to Gillian Westbrook, manager of the Irish Organic Farmers' and Growers' Association.
“The new support rate puts many grass-based Irish producers on a similar support rate with our EU counterparts,” she said, adding that it would help to grow the sector. But she said Ireland had a long way to go to develop organic farming. “In Ireland 1.3 per cent of land is certified organic, well below the EU average of 5 per cent,” she said.
“In addition there are ten countries in Europe recording over 10 per cent of their land as certified organic.”
There are some 1,721 registered organic farmers in Ireland and retail sales of organic food are worth more than €99 million a year.
Ms Westbrook said the EU market for organic food was valued at €23 billion so Irish farmers had a lot of market opportunities sitting on their doorstep.
“There is a new interest in organic production as farmers are becoming more aware of the cost-saving potential of the right sustainable agro-ecological system, and organic farming offers just that.”
Her organisation is running a field talk programme to help farmers in the transition to organic production.
Mr Hayes said the application process was quite simple and most farmers would have no difficulty in submitting their applications.
He was speaking during a visit to the farm of John Purcell, who runs the Good Herdsmen organic meat processing firm in Co Tipperary.
The organic farmers’ scheme is part of the Rural Development Programme which is is co-funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.