Dáil Éireann - Volume 492 - 09 June, 1998
Other Questions. - Organic Farming.
Mr. Callely Mr. Callely
8. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the incentives and payments, if any, available for farmers and growers involved in organic methods; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13311/98]
Mr. Davern Mr. Davern
Mr. Davern: Funding is available from my Department to farmers and growers through a number of measures. Under the REP scheme, farmers engaged in organic farming are eligible to receive additional payments on top of the basic REPS payment of 125 ecus per hectare per annum. The rates of payment vary depending on the size of holding and the stage of organic status reached.
The annual additional rates are as follows: Applicants with more than three hectares of useable agricultural area would receive 150 ecus per hectare in conversion status for a maximum of 40 hectares and 75 ecus per hectare for full organic status for a maximum of 40 hectares. Applicants farming up to three hectares with at least one hectare under fruit or vegetables would receive 200 ecus per hectare in conversion status up to a maximum of three hectares and 100 ecus per hectare for full organic status up to a maximum of three hectares. To date, some £1.2 million has been paid to 348 farmers under the organic measure. Funding is also available from my Department under a scheme of grant aid for the development of the organic farming sector under the Operational Programme for Agriculture, Rural Development and Forestry, 1994-9. One of the measures under this scheme provides financial assistance to farmers, groups, companies or co-operatives for the provision of facilities for grading, packing, storing and distribution of organic produce. Grant aid is at the rate of 50 per cent subject to a maximum investment of £70,000. Since 1994, £124,292 has been paid to 13 organic operators by my Department under this element of the scheme. Further payments will be made under the scheme for the remainder of 1998 and for 1999.
The measures have encouraged more farmers to convert to organic farming practices and assisted the marketing of organic produce. It is likely the demand for organically produced food will continue to grow and I am confident that, with the supports available, our producers will be well placed to meet the increasing demand.
Mr. Connaughton Mr. Connaughton
Mr. Connaughton: I agree that every aid which can be given to organic farming should be given. The system appears to be working well with regard to livestock but the Minister of State might consider a system of financial aid for organic arable farming because organic farms are unable to provide sufficient winter feed, be it cereals or silage, for cattle. This matter has probably been brought to the Minister of State's attention on more than one occasion. Is it proposed to make a change in the system to redress that imbalance? The organic farmers are happy with the amount  of Exchequer aid in terms of headage payments but there is a problem in the arable sector.
Mr. Davern Mr. Davern
Mr. Davern: I agree there is a problem in that area. We intend to propose establishing different structures in the next round of talks to correct the difficulties that have arisen in some of these areas. We are aware that producers with small holdings, where payments per hectare would not be attractive, must be looked after. These people are probably more ideally suited to practise organic farming than other, more intensive producers.
The Department is currently considering a revised programme to deal with some of the problems, such as that outlined by the Deputy, and to bring them within the remit of the scheme.
Mr. Creed Mr. Creed
Mr. Creed: Some continental countries have extremely focused policies for organic farming which set targets of 10 per cent and 20 per cent of total land area to be used for organic production. An important aspect of those policies is research and development. Is the Minister of State satisfied with the levels of research and development available to Irish farmers who are interested in organic farming, particularly through Teagasc? What proportion of Teagasc's budget is allocated for advisory purposes for people involved in organic farming? What research projects have been undertaken and what conclusions, if any, can be drawn from them?
Mr. Davern Mr. Davern
Mr. Davern: Organic farming is a relatively new industry in this country. Only in recent years has it been taken seriously and organic produce has about 2 per cent of the market at present. However, the market has not been developed.
Teagasc has been active in this area and runs an organic farm at Johnstown Castle. A booklet has been produced by Teagasc in Johnstown Castle and it has been more than helpful to organic producers and to people starting in the organic sector. There are difficulties in organising what is marketed as organic produce in some areas. Less fertiliser does not mean a product is organic and there is a need to regulate that aspect of the market and to have the IOFGA stamp used more extensively. There are only three inspectors in the country who are qualified to judge these products and more are necessary. It is a matter of better organisation and better recognition for organic produce.
Anybody who is interested in organic production should contact Johnstown Castle in County Wexford. The manager of that farm is most helpful and has produced a booklet on the subject which discusses profits and production in organic farming vis-à-vis commercial farming. He shows that organic farming can be extremely successful financially. The Deputy should contact Johnstown Castle for advice on embarking on organic farming. 
Dáil Éireann 492 Other Questions. Organic Farming.