Organic scheme needs to accommodate extensive farming systems and small holdings – INHFA

The Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) have called for a comprehensive review of the Organic Scheme which they maintain is an essential component in developing this sector.

INHFA spokesperson Henry O’Donnell outlined how the Department have sought feedback on the current selection criteria for entry to the scheme, but maintains that this alone won’t be enough. This issue was also addressed by the organisation in a recent meeting with Minister Pippa Hackett.

In discussing the organisation’s concerns O’Donnell pointed to issues on stocking rates, farm size and farm enterprise. Currently the maximum payment rate can only be achieved for livestock farmers if they maintain a minimum stocking rate of 0.5/LU/ha with a significantly reduced payment for farmers that don’t achieve this.

O’Donnell maintained that “this policy actively discriminates against extensive farming systems many of which are restricted by National and EU law from carrying higher stocking rates such as those farming on Natura 2000 sites.”

This issue was , he added “discussed in our meeting with Minister Hackett where we got confirmation from a Department official that the decision to introduce this was made in Ireland and is not an EU requirement.”

Unfortunately, the minimum stocking rate is not the only issue of concern. The INHFA spokesperson highlighted “how farmers on smaller holdings that are in GLAS are having to forfeit organic payments in order to comply with GLAS, while at the same time we see additional payments for larger holdings of 50ha or more.”

These issues in addition to the marking system that undermines access to the scheme for beef and sheep farmers have all formed part of the INHFA submission to the Department.

The INHFA Spokesperson also highlighted the EU Farm to Fork Strategy which proposes that at least 25% of the EU’s utilisable agricultural area be under organic farming by 2030. In Ireland with less than 2% currently, we are he stated “lightyears away from this and while we hear talk of progress, farmers that are willing to make the transition are deliberately denied access to the organic scheme.

In concluding O’Donnell stressed the need to provide equal access and support to all farmers that are willing to make the transition to organic farming and stated “how new farmers applying must also be given clarity, and should not have additional compliance costs with no assurance of entry to the scheme.”