Financial support is now available for Northern Irish farmers and landowners converting to and managing organic land, as part of the government’s Environmental Farming Scheme.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is providing financial support to farmers and land managers carrying out environmentally beneficial farming practices on agricultural land.The funding window is now open until 11 September 2020, for agreements starting on 1 January 2021.

Farmers in Northern Ireland are being encouraged to apply for financial support for organic conversion after a surge in demand for organic food, driven by Covid-19, with the organic market set to surpass the £2.5 billion sales mark by the end of the year. According to Nielsen figures, organic sales increased 18.7 per cent in the 12 weeks ending 30 May, compared to a 14.2 per cent increase in non-organic food and drink.

Soil Association Certification and DAERA are running a webinar offering guidance for farmers and landowners looking at converting to organic and maintaining organic production. This will run from 10am to 11am on Wednesday 26 August and any farmer can register by visiting the Soil Association Certification website.

Clare McDermott, business development director at Soil Association Certification, said: “This is a critical time for farmers in Northern Ireland to convert to organic to help tackle the climate, nature and health crises. Not only will this help to meet the rising public demand for organic, with the sector entering its ninth consecutive year of growth but we expect good long-term opportunities for farmers who want to meet that rising demand post-Brexit.

“DAERA’s scheme provides vital support to farmers converting to and managing organic land, farming in a way that works with nature and delivering invaluable public goods – such as protecting soil, water, air and ecosystems. Covid-19 has shaken complacency about where our food comes from to the core, and accelerated changing shopper behaviours towards personal health, transparency and integrity. With more people than ever understanding this connection and making planet-centric choices, I think the whole organic sector has a lot to feel confident about.”