Organic fruit and vegetables are the main consumer entry point for purchasing organic produce, and they continue to be the area of shortest supply in the organic sector, with most produce imported. Dan Clavin, Teagasc Farm Management and Rural Development Department provides more information.
Marketing opportunities vary from direct to consumer sales, e.g., farmers’ markets and box schemes, all the way to emerging links between farmers/groups of farmers with wholesalers and retailers. Organic fruit and vegetable production is therefore an ongoing profitable business sector, which for those with the required skills, offers a financially and professionally rewarding enterprise. As a guide, when converting to organic horticulture, a general reduction of 20% to 50% in yield compared to conventional production is likely. A price premium of 30% to 100% would be expected above conventional sale price, depending on the outlet, i.e., wholesale or direct sales.
Organic horticulture sector in Ireland
Organic horticulture production in Ireland takes place on holdings varying from small garden-style holdings to commercial market garden enterprises. Field scale production is generally limited to soils in suitable climates in the midlands and south east. Commercial production however is possible throughout the country, particularly with polytunnel and/or glasshouse production. For full interpretation of the rules and regulations governing organic fruit and vegetable farming, it is essential to study the ‘Organic Food and Farming Standards in Ireland’ document, which is available from the organic certification bodies (OCBs) – the Irish Organic Association (IOA) and the Organic Trust.
10 steps to grow an organic market garden business
1) Identify what crops the market wants
2) Match crops to land – find out what crops are suitable to your land type and climate
3) Start small and grow with the market and the skills you acquire along the way. The size of your initial holding will depend on whether you are: new to farming and seeking access to land; an existing farmer with no previous horticulture experience; or, an existing conventional commercial horticulture grower
4) Manual labour vs mechanisation – as a rule of thumb mechanisation is required on holdings greater than four acres
5) Business – it’s a challenge to be a good grower, a good manager and a good salesperson at the same time. Use mentors, seek financial advice, determine clear longterm goals, and sign up to a start your own business course
6) Financial planning – complete a business plan, which can also help secure bank loans. Make use of Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) grant schemes where applicable
7) Income – expect little or no income for the formative three to four years of the business. Plan accordingly, e.g., off-farm job, use borrowings or savings
8) Staff – match staff skills with appropriate tasks
9) Growing skills – keep up to date technically. Attend farm walks and grower meetings.
10) Work–life balance – maintain a good work–life balance. Get involved in activities outside of the business
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