Dáil Éireann - Volume 630 - 31 January, 2007
Written Answers. - Organic Farming.
Mr. English Mr. English
Mr. English asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the acreage in Meath covered by organic production; the way in which she will increase this acreage; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43807/06]
Mary Coughlan Mary Coughlan
Mary Coughlan: The area in Meath covered by organic production at the end of 2006 was 785 hectares (1,940 acres), compared with 644 hectares (1,590 acres) in 2005. While the total area is still small by European standards, 2006 was the second year in succession in which the Irish sector showed significant and encouraging growth. Nationally, the total area in conversion or with full organic status rose by 15% in 2005 and by a further 14% in 2006.
My Department already provides substantial financial supports for organic producers, through the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) and the Scheme of Grant Aid for the development of the organic sector. Since REPS began in 1994, it has delivered some €37 million to the sector. The draft Rural Development Programme for the period 2007–2013 provides for continued support and increased payments. In an  effort to encourage development in the organic tillage and horticulture areas, I am proposing that organic farmers will be able to obtain organic support payments without having to be in REPS, as they have had to do up to now. I hope that this initiative will result in a further increase in the land area under organic production throughout the country. It should be particularly relevant to tillage farmers in Co Meath, who will now be able to convert part of their holdings to organic production without having to put their entire farms into REPS.
The National Steering Group for the Organic Sector advises me on all policy issues. Two sub-Groups, the Partnership Expert Working Group and the Organic Market Development Group, support the Steering Group. The Partnership Expert Working Group is responsible for training, education, advice and research. The Organic Market Development Group has overall responsibility for developing a national marketing strategy for organic food. In this regard Bord Bia, in consultation with the Market Development Group, has recently produced a three-year Organic Marketing Plan. The objective of the plan is to develop the organic sector in Ireland for existing suppliers and new entrants. My Department has approved funding for the Plan, amounting to a significant sum of €1.5m over the 3-year period.
My Department, in conjunction with Teagasc, has taken steps to raise awareness of organic farming among the mainstream farming community by a demonstration farm programme. To improve technical expertise among existing organic farmers, my Department and Teagasc arranged for two specialist agronomists from the UK to run a series of farm visits and workshops in 2006, at which they shared their experiences with producers.
The decoupling of direct payments from production has established a policy framework in which farmers have the freedom to farm in response to market demands. In this more market-oriented scenario, there is real scope for organic production to expand with the help of the incentives that I have outlined already.
Dáil Éireann 630 Written Answers. Organic Farming.