The organic farming sector faces unique challenges and will require a stronger voice to secure its future, Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Michelle O’Neill has said.

The minister was speaking during a visit to John Carson’s organic beef farm near Downpatrick which converted to organic farming in early 2009.

“This visit has given me an opportunity to learn more about the practices and principles of organic farming and production as well as learn more about the unique challenges facing this sector," she said.

“My Department has supported the organic sector through the current Rural Development Programme and continues to support it through technical advice, training courses and the organic farm at CAFRE.

“Some £2m sterling of grant aid was provided to 77 projects through a capital grant support scheme which helped farmers to convert existing animal housing to meet organic standards. DARD also provides financial support for farmers converting to organic production through the Organic Farming Scheme which compensates farmers for the additional costs associated with converting land to organic production methods, and support is also provided for organic farmers through the Organic Management Option within the NI Countryside Management Scheme”

The Minister added: “To secure the future of organic farming, now more than ever, the sector needs a strong voice. The recently launched consultation on the new Rural Development Programme offers organic farmers that opportunity. And I would also encourage the organic sector to consider a cohesive group which could best represent their interests.”

Pictured: Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill is pictured among the cereals grown on the organic farm of John Carson and his son Jonathan near Downpatrick.