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What is involved in making the switch to organics?

In this article, we take a look at organic farming in Ireland, schemes and incentives and the process involved.

There are currently 2,127 organic operations in Ireland, of whom over 1,700 are farmers. This group farms fewer than 2% of Irish agricultural land.

Organic farms are mostly lin counties in the southwest of Ireland, including Cork, Limerick, and Tipperary.

Organic farming in Ireland

Ireland’s dairy industry consumes less than 100 of its organic producers.

Demand for organic milk is outstanding, especially in terms of winter organic milk. In comparison to conventional milk, organic milk producers receive a premium price.

For example, organic milk producers are subject to a larger premium of up to 60c/L for winter milk supply.

Globally, the organic market is booming, especially in Europe. The premium price available to organics over non-organic produce can be up to 100%.

Consequently, it is possible to see organic dairying as a viable option for farmers across the country, depending on how an enterprise is managed.

A combination of high outputs, low input costs and attractive milk premiums from suppliers are essential to ensuring a successful, sustainable organic dairy farm.

Schemes and incentives available to organic farmers

Through the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS), the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine provides financial support to farmers to encourage the production of organic foods.

How to qualify:

  • Produce livestock and crop products according to EU organic standards;
  • Complete an approved training course;
  • Farm and manage the land included in the OFS application;
  • Register with, and be approved as, an organic operator by a private inspection body;
  • Have a minimum farm area of 3 hectares – except for horticultural producers, where the minimum farm area is 1 hectare.

Payment rates

Horticulture:

Organic horticulture producers are eligible for the following payments on the basis that at least 50% of the area eligible for organic payment is cropped annually.

Horticulture Area < 6ha Horticulture Area >6ha and up to 60ha Horticulture Area > 60ha
In conversion €300/ha €220/ha €60/ha
Full organic status €200/ha €170/ha €30/ha

 

Tillage:

Organic tillage producers who farm six hectares or more are eligible for the following payments:

Tillage Area < 20ha Farmed Area > 20ha and up to 60ha Farmed Area > 60ha
In conversion €260/ha €220/ha €60/ha
Full organic status €170/ha €170/ha €30/ha

 

All other holdings:

Organic farmers with an area of 3ha or more of utilisable agricultural area are eligible for the following payments:

Farmed Area of > 3ha up to 60ha Farmed Area > 60ha
In conversion €220/ha €60/ha
Full organic status €170/ha €30/ha, Additional Option:

 

In addition, a payment of €30/ha/year is available where a farmer incorporates red clover into existing swards. This subsequent payment is subject to a maximum of 10 hectares.

OCIS 

Organic Capital Investment Scheme (OCIS) provides financial aid to farmers to ensure a regular supply of high-quality organic produce to the market.

OCIS is governed by similar terms and conditions to TAMS. Farmers can obtain grant aid of 40% on up to €80,000.

Likewise, young organic farmers can also claim this payment. For qualifying young organic farmers who meet the specific eligibility criteria, the standard rate of grant aid is 60% on investments up to a ceiling of €80,000.

Getting involved

To begin, the first step is to apply for an organic licence. You can do this by submitting an application to a certified organic body.

In the second place, following the application, the farmer is subject to an annual fee, inspections, as well as appropriate record-keeping.

Before selling produce such as beef, milk or cereals as organic, the farm must partake in an organic conversion period. Following this, the conversion period has a duration of 24 months.

Added pressure and requirements

You cannot house animals in a complete, 100% slatted house. Livestock requires access to a bedded area at all times while housed.

Additionally, limits for stocking rates are set at 170kgN/ha, seeing average stocking rates sit at 1.4 L.U/ha.

Next, as a condition for organic certification, organic ration also has some limitations.

It is recommended that farmers maximise grass availability as well as introduce the correct breeding and relevant systems on their farms to reduce feed costs.

Required organic concentrates for animal feed are sitting just below €600/tonne.

You must feed GMO-free rations to all animals from the date of conversion.

Compared to conventional farming, artificial fertilisers, fungicides, pesticides, and insecticides are not permitted.

Moreover, where sick animals are present on the farm, treatment is administered as required.

Also, an element of the conversion process is a vet preparing an animal health plan.

Furthermore, any drugs introduced or utilised on the farm are accounted for in terms of record keeping.

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