Dáil Éireann - Volume 630 - 06 February, 2007
Written Answers. - Organic Farming.
Dr. Upton Dr. Upton
Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the action she will take to facilitate the substitution of imports of organic food, both processed and non-processed, with indigenously produced and grown organic foods; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3739/07]
Mary Coughlan Mary Coughlan
Mary Coughlan: The main deficits in the supply of Irish-produced organic food are in fruit and vegetables and in cereals. Whether to convert to organic production, or to step up existing production, is ultimately a business decision for food producers themselves. However I am strongly committed to the development of the organic sector in Ireland and my Department supports it in several ways which, I am satisfied, offer strong encouragement to producers.
My Department provides substantial financial supports 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 includes measures designed particularly to encourage development in the organic tillage and horticulture areas. It is proposed, for example, to allow organic farmers to obtain organic support payments without having to be in  REPS, and the payments themselves will be increased.
Lack of technical expertise has been recognised as a barrier to progress in both the organic tillage and horticultural areas. To address this information deficit, my Department, in conjunction with Teagasc, arranged last year to bring in two specialist agronomists from the UK on a pilot basis. Through farm visits and workshops, they shared their experiences with producers and this has been of immense value.
Another successful initiative has been the demonstration farm programme. It continued during 2006 and a total of 14 farms were used throughout the country to promote organic farming systems. My Department will continue to expand and improve this programme, which is a major instrument in encouraging conventional growers to switch to organic.
Substantial progress has also been made on the implementation of the recommendations in the Organic Development Committee report, published in 2002. The three additional structures recommended are now into their second three-year terms. The National Steering Group advises me on all policy issues relating to the sector. The Steering Group is supported by two sub-Groups, the Partnership Expert Working Group and the Organic Market Development 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. Bord Bia, in consultation with the Market Development Group, has recently produced a three-year Organic Marketing Plan and I have approved substantial funding of €1.5m for it.
The decoupling of farm payments 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 local organic production to expand with the help of the incentives that I have outlined already.
Question No. 134 answered with Question No. 125.
Dáil Éireann 630 Written Answers. Organic Farming.