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Body of work needed to prevent organic lamb leaking to conventional systems

Body of work needed to prevent organic lamb leaking to conventional systems

The organic sector has experienced rapid growth in recent years, enabled by additional funding available through the Organic Farming Scheme. Through this scheme, 2,000 new farmers commenced conversion to organics at the beginning of 2023, followed by a further 1,000 at the beginning of this year.

As a result of the influx of farmers converting from conventional to organic production, Bord Bia is forecasting an increase in the production of both organic beef and lamb. Organic beef production is expected to rise to 10,000-12,000t by 2030 – up from 4,000t currently – while a five-fold increase in organic lamb production is envisaged – rising from 500t currently to closer to 2,500t by the turn of the next decade.

With 80% of this produce set to be exported, Emmet Doyle, Organic Sector Manager with Bord Bia, joined the 200th episode of the Signpost Series Webinar to discuss the organisation’s promotional activities for this produce.

“From an Irish market perspective, we are in a really positive place. The Irish market is in its infancy compared to mature continental Europe, but we still have one in two shoppers going out looking for organic food and drink with the key drivers being health and sustainability,” he said.

Over the course of 2023, Bord Bia ran a marketing campaign to build awareness around the quality of organic food, which “helped to increase purchase intent and the perception”. A similar campaign is planned this year, commencing on May 6 and cumulating at Bloom, where a number of organic producers will display their wares.

On the European front, Emmet explained that it’s a large market worth over €53 billion and it will be the key area to which Irish organic exports are targeted

“Looking at organic meat and dairy, pasture-based or grass-based production around organics is a clear differentiator and for us, with exports over the next 3-5 years, we will be looking at continental Europe and the UK. Those markets of Germany, Austria, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK are going to be a key focus for us to grow our exports.”

On where Irish organic meat and dairy exports fit into to these markets, Emmet said: “From talking to retailers across Europe, they see the quality of our conventional beef, lamb and dairy – and the reputation that has – as a gateway to extend their ranges into organics.”

Listen into the podcast version of the Signpost Series webinar, where Emmet provides further details on Bord Bia’s marketing campaign for organics:

Leakage of organic lamb

Although Bord Bia is endeavouring to market Irish organic produce, correcting the leakage of organic lamb to conventional systems requires a whole of industry approach.

On this, Emmet said: “Back in early 2020, 84% of organic lambs were being leaked into conventional. It is down to 70% and we are looking to see how, as an industry, we can reduce this further.

“A lot of this is being lost at store level, being sold in conventional marts. It’s also a lot of west coast farmers and then not having a valve to finish those lambs on the east coast, so it is a big [area of] work between ourselves, Teagasc, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the IFA to see how we can address it. It’s not a case particularly at the market end of it, it is actually a co-ordination and supply chain issue to bring it through.”

Emmet added that positive conversations are ongoing with European customers on organic lamb, but “the issue is they do need 52 weeks of supply. Seasonality is a bit of an issue, so how we can extend the season so we can get a consistent supply coming through is the area that we are working on as an industry”.

Also speaking on the webinar, Teagasc Organic Specialist, Joe Kelleher said: “There is a body of work to be done with the connectivity of getting that lamb to flow across the country from the hill sheep farmers in particular to finishing farms and on to the processors, so it is a body of work in progress.”

A full recoding of the webinar is available here.

Also read: Organically farmed area triples since 2020