EU approves €6bn fund to help farmers go organic
FARMERS in Ireland will be able to get almost €22,000 a year for going organic - even before they sell any crops.
The European Union yesterday approved a €6bn rural development plan for Ireland which provides special payments for environmentally friendly farming methods and to encourage more young farmers into the business. The scheme will also support farms in disadvantaged areas.
Larger farmers will be able to get up to €21,650 a year while they are converting their farms into organic status - a process which takes several years during which their crops cannot command the higher prices attached to organic food.
Farmers who already have full organic status will get payments of up to €15,860 a year through the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) an increase of 17pc on the current rates.
Small-scale fruit and vegetable producers and large-scale tillage farmers will also be able to get special organic payments outside of REPS for the first time, said Junior Agriculture Minister Trevor Sargent.
"We are targeting these two specific areas as they are very much in deficit production-wise and there is a ready-made market for the organic product," he said.
Demand for organic food is booming throughout Ireland but the difficulties of switching to pesticide-free farming means that Irish farmers have not kept pace with this and 70pc of what is eaten here has to be imported. Less than one in every 100 acres in Ireland is farmed organically, way behind the amount in most European countries.
In total Irish farmers are to get 93pc of the €5.78bn in the new rural funding package for Ireland, with the remainder going to improve the quality of life in rural areas and to encourage other non-farming business.
The new programme will run until 2013 with €2.33bn coming from the EU and the balance coming from the Irish government.
"This programme represents unprecedented investment in Irish agriculture and will enhance our rural environment and help to secure farmers' income into the future," said Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan.
Some €3bn will go to REPS and wildlife-protection scheme Natura, €1.8bn to disadvantaged areas, €418m to early retirement, €63m to young farmers, and €85m to farm investment.
Another €425m will be spent on measures to improve the rural economy, particularly rural tourism, small-scale food production and countryside recreation. IFA President Padraig Walshe welcomed the decision of the European Commission to approve the plan and called for the effective implementation of all its measures, which he said were a vital support for farmers and rural areas.