Row over dramatic funding hike for organic farmers under CAP reform
A row has erupted over the Government’s decision to dramatically increase funding for the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) under CAP reform. A total of €256m is proposed for the OFS scheme from 2023 — up from €56m under the current Rural Development Programme. While aimed at increasing Ireland’s land cover under organics from 1.6pc (74,000ha) to the EU average of 7.5pc by 2030, several farm leaders have criticised the move. ICSA president Dermot Kelleher said the allocation suggests Government is “completely out of touch with reality”. “It makes no sense whatsoever to allocate €256m to the organic farming scheme, just marginally less than the €260m for sucklers and substantially more than the €100m allocated for the sheep scheme. “It’s not that we are against more ambition for the organic sector. But you would have to be on another planet to think this is balanced when there are currently just 1,800 organic scheme participants. “The 63,600 farmers in sucklers look on in amazement… they are being allocated less than the current combined allocation under BDGP and BEEP. “Sheep farmers are outraged they’re being offered less than €2 extra per ewe. Worst of all, there is no sign of a plan to support the beef finishing sector.” The country’s 1,800 organic farmers could receive up to €28,444/year; while suckler and sheep farmers may receive €817/year and €571/year respectively, says ICSA. The association called on Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue to shift 13pc of Pillar 1 funding for coupled suckler and sheep payments; and to reserve up to €60m from Pillar 2 for beef finishers. However, IFA organic project team chair Nigel Renaghan welcomed the funding saying “organics is the new REPS”. “REPS made farmers think more about soil pH and fertility rather than excessive amounts of chemical fertiliser, now organics is taking it a stage further. “There are organic farmers stocked at two livestock units per hectare which is just under the nitrates limits — so the argument about expensive livestock production doesn’t stand up the longer you are in organics. “Look at Denmark where organic dairy farmers are as productive as conventional farmers in Ireland, producing 8,000 litres per cow stocked at 1.8 livestock units. “Organic farmers are seeing the benefits of red clover and multi-species swards; plus the benefits of improved animal health. “It’s extremely important to talk to other organic farmers, joining an organic knowledge transfer group is key.” However, it’s understood IFA president Tim Cullinan and North Tipperary chair Imelda Walsh called for the new OFS funding to be redirected towards conventional farmers during a protest at Thurles Mart where the minister was visiting. At least 100 farmers from the IFA, ICSA and Macra na Feirme were there to protest against the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) plans. IFA president Tim Cullinan was scathing in his appraisal of the current plans which he said would lose the average 100ac farmer at least €5,000/year. On suckler cows he said there was only enough funding there for a low payment for approximately 350,000 suckler cows when there were 800,000 cows in the country. “His (the minister’s) hands aren’t tied by Brussels they’re tied by the Green Party,” Cullinan told the Farming Independent.