Thursday, 21 October 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
3. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the projected number of new organic farmers for 2022; the additional funding that will be allocated to the organic farming scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50848/21]
I ask the Minister of State the number of new farmers that she expects to join the organic farming scheme in 2022; the additional funding that will be allocated to the scheme; and her proposals for the sector.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Senator Pippa Hackett):
I, along with the Government, am committed to seeing the area under organics grow. Therefore, I am delighted to have secured a significant increase in the budget for organic farming for 2022.
Funding for the organic farming scheme, OFS, has been increased to €21 million, up from €16 million last year, with a further €2 million for further organic sector development measures. This increase is most welcome and addresses the growing demand from both farmers and consumers for this type of production. It effectively doubles the funding for organics since I took office less than two years ago.
As the Deputy will be aware, the current programme for Government contains a commitment to align Ireland’s organic land area with that of the then EU average of approximately 7.5%. Budget 2022, with its increased allocation for organic farming, will assist in working towards that goal. At the same time, I will also continue to progress the implementation of the National Organic Strategy 2019 to 2025, which sets out ambitious growth targets for the sector by aligning it closely with market opportunities.
The additional funding to be allocated to the opening of the OFS in 2022 could provide for an additional 50,000 ha converting to organic production in 2022. This would represent an increase in excess of 50% in the area currently farmed organically and would take us further along the route to the goal of 7.5% land cover. I am encouraging all farmers from all sectors to join, and my Department and the relevant agencies and advisory bodies will be working with them before the opening of the scheme.
In addition to the OFS, budget 2022 will provide funding for other supports for organic farmers, such as the organic capital investment scheme and the organic processing investment grant scheme. Initiatives to assist in the development of the sector, such as the organic demonstration farm programme and other training and education projects, will also be funded.
Organic farming and production is a key priority of mine and, indeed, the Government. No Minister or Government has ever funded its expansion to this extent and I intend to continue to invest in its future under the next CAP also.
For the sake of clarity, I ask the Minister of State to outline what the current organic land area is and what proportion she expects that to reach by the end of 2022. I gather from her reply that the target remains 7.5% by 2030. That is absolutely pathetic.
One of the reasons for the lack of ambition is apparent in the Minister of State's comment that she wants to align the organic sector "closely with market opportunities". We know that for a sector like organics to grow, the Government must be proactive in creating new opportunities, as opposed to simply waiting for the market to take the lead. It has been shown, time and again, that when consumers are given a choice and when the origin and type of food that is produced is clearly labelled, they will always choose organic. However, they must be given that choice; the market will not take lead on its own.
The current area under organic production is 74,000 ha and we brought in 13,000 ha from last year. Therefore, the total area either in organic or in conversion is 87,000 ha. As I said, an increase of 50,000 ha with the proposed money in the budget for next year would bring the figure to around 130,000 ha, which would represent a 57% increase on this year.
In terms of the 7.5% target, it was not set to be reached by 2030. Originally, it was to be reached in the term of the Government but as that is not a set period of time, we aligned it with the CAP strategic plan period.
That means the 7.5% target is to be met by 2027.
I agree with the Deputy with regard to markets. I am engaging closely with Bord Bia to find these markets and open them up. Organics is a growing sector, particularly throughout the EU and domestically. It offers great opportunities.
I thank the Minister of State. The EU average was 7.5% about three years ago. Across the board, the EU has set a target of 25%. We are second to last, coming only ahead of Malta with regard to land under organic use. The question I posed was very specific. It was on the number of new organic farmers. While the amount of land under organic use is important, and the Minister of State's reply dealt with this, it is also crucial that we increase the number of organic farmers. Otherwise I fear the Department will go for what might be considered low hanging fruit. It will go for the larger farmers to come into the scheme in order to meet the 50,000 ha target. Will the Minister of State give a commitment that she will shape the scheme to encourage smaller and medium-sized farmers to enter organics?
I thank the Deputy. He is absolutely right. We do need to bring in large number of farmers because this will create a critical mass and allow for significant engagement, knowledge transfer and peer-to-peer work. I certainly concur with that.
With regard to the current design of the scheme, the average farm size in the scheme across the board is in the region of 40 ha. They are relatively small farms. There are also smaller farms in the scheme and not many large farms. The scheme is capped at an area-based payment to a certain hectarage so it so the payment does not keep increasing. The further people go into it, the less they get. In a way, it is designed to support smaller and medium farmers. We really want to encourage all farmers to join the scheme. There is a great market for tillage and organic arable production. These farms tend to be larger. I do not want to rule anyone out. I concur that we need many farmers in the scheme.