Looking to the future: The Green Way
In 2020, when the Green Party entered Government and I was appointed as Minister of State within the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine I was determined to work hard to implement improvements for the environment, and for people, one day at a time but always with an eye to the longer term.
The day to day has not been without its challenges, particularly in forestry, but now, over 3 years later, that longer term vision and commitment to delivering for nature and for people is paying dividends. This week, I welcomed strong financial backing for organic farming, forestry and the horticulture sector in Budget 2024.
Budget Day is clearly an important milestone for any sector, but allocating funding is only one piece of the jigsaw. It is vital that we use taxpayers’ money in a strategically focused way, to bring about the long-term outcomes we want to see. This is the Green approach.
While continuing to keep one eye on the future, here are some important updates on the progress so far, including details from Budget 2024, the 4th budget with a very strong environmental focus:
The new Forestry Programme is the most ambitious in the history of the State. Next year’s funding of €110 million will provide a strong foundation to the sector so that we can increase annual planting levels from 2024. This package will ensure farmers plant trees as part of our efforts to reduce emissions and improve biodiversity and water quality, both through the Native Tree Area Scheme and through the wider Forestry Programme.
We will also publish a plan to implement the recommendations of the Ash Dieback Independent Review in the coming weeks.
I am very pleased to have secured funding of €57 million for organic farmers in 2024. This increase in funding is a reflection of the huge interest and resulting scale up of organic farming. We have doubled the number of organic farmers and the land area farmed organically since this Government came to office, and we are on track to hit our target of 10% of all farmland under organic production by 2030. I will be opening the Organic Farming Scheme to new applicants very shortly to continue this forward momentum.
The horticulture sector is a key focus of mine, and I am delighted to have secured a total package of €14.35 million for the sector for the year ahead. This will support a continued capital investment programme of €10 million, and €1.35 million to support the delivery of the National Strategy for Horticulture. In addition, I am pleased to confirm that I am allocating €3 million to provide advance payments to Producer Organisations under the EU funded scheme for the fruit and vegetables sector.
European Innovation Partnerships (EIP)
Locally-led, results-based schemes have proven to be a massive success in recent years, both for farmers and the environment. This is why I advocated so strongly for the locally-led, results-based model to form a key part of our CAP Strategic Plan through the ACRES Cooperation Projects. On top of the €200 million ACRES funding from which farmers in Cooperation Projects around the country will benefit next year, we will spend €18 million in 2024 on EIPs. This funding will support farmers to take targeted action at a local level as part of schemes focused on water quality, breeding waders, farming on peatlands, and new EIPs to be funded under a call for project proposals early next year.
Soil health is vital for our very existence, and the more we know about it, the better informed we are to make the decisions necessary to preserve and regenerate it. I’m delighted to see €8.8 million allocated to the soil sampling and analysis programme which will enable farmers to take informed, targeted decisions at field level and ultimately reduce their reliance on chemical inputs. The funding of €2.5 million we have allocated for multi-species swards in 2024 will also allow farmers reduce chemical inputs and build healthy soils through a more diverse sward.
Road maps to the Future
The National Strategy for Horticulture provides a road map for the horticulture industry, underpinning Government’s commitment to the horticulture industry and the many citizens who depend on it. Similarly, I published Ireland’s Forest Strategy to 2030 earlier this month, and this too ensures that we have a clear, strategic framework guiding our expenditure, so that we can achieve the ambitious targets we have set ourselves. The organic sector is on a strong upward trajectory, and to continue building on this momentum we are currently working on an updated National Organic Strategy to take account of our increased ambitions for the sector, which we will publish next year.