Wednesday, 13 October 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan): Attractive financial supports continue to be available to encourage farmers to consider the organic option and to respond to the market demand for organically produced food. Organic farmers are eligible for financial support through the rural environment protection scheme, REPS. With the introduction of REPS 3, organic farmers can benefit from the substantially increased basic rates along with the attractive additional payments under the organic supplementary measure. An organic farmer with 55 hectares, for example, will now receive an annual payment of €18,505 while a holding is in conversion and an annual payment thereafter of €13,555 when full organic status is achieved. One of the new elements in REPS 3 is the possibility of converting part of a farm to organic production rather than the entire farm as was previously the case.
Grant aid towards investment in the organic sector is provided through the scheme of grant aid for the development of the organic sector, which was approved under the National Development Plan 2000-2006. This scheme provides grant assistance for both on-farm and off-farm investment in equipment and facilities for preparation, grading, packing, storage and distribution of organic produce. Grant aid is payable at 40% of the eligible cost. The maximum grant payable over the duration of the scheme for on farm investment is €50,790 while the maximum for off farm investment is €508,000.
While there is a growing demand for organic food among consumers, much of it has to be met by imported produce. I believe that the introduction of the single farm payment will give farmers an opportunity to give serious consideration to the organic option.
It is ultimately the market that will determine the scale of organic farming but my Department has taken significant actions to promote its development. A national steering group, established on foot of a recommendation in the organic development committee report, acts as the driving force for the development of the sector here in Ireland. It also monitors progress on the implementation of the recommendations in the report of the organic development committee. Two sub groups, one focusing on marketing and the other on research, education, advice and training, are also playing their part. The marketing group, for example, recently published a guide to organic food and farming, which is directed mainly at consumers.
My Department has approved seven organic demonstration farms on which open days can be attended by both existing and potential organic farmers. Teagasc has also identified advisers nationwide who will assist organic farmers as well as those considering the organic option.
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