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Trebling of organic lamb supplies expected

Trebling of organic lamb supplies expected

Influenced by higher payment rates available under the Organic Farming Scheme and the desire of some farmers to move away from conventional farming systems, the land area dedicated to organic farming has increased significantly in recent times. This will result in production of more organic lambs.

Speaking as part of a recent Teagasc Signpost Series webinar, Senior Inspector in organics with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Jack Nolan provided an overview of organic farming in Ireland.

Nolan explained how through government policy, additional funding available under the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) which seen funding available to drystock farms increase by 56%, and farmers seeking alternative farming methods, the area farmed organically in Ireland has increased from 1.6% in 2020 to 5% following the addition of approximately 1,000 more farmers into the latest tranche of the Organic Farming Scheme. By 2027, the government has targets of having 7.5% of the available agricultural area farmed under organically, stretching to 10% by 2030 as set out under the Climate Action Plan.

As of 2023, Nolan added, approximately 175,000ha were dedicated to organics. With 1,000 new entrants entering the conversion phase this spring, the land area under organics has increased to 225,000ha.

In terms of farmer numbers in organic sheep production, Nolan pointed to a total of 1,503 in 2023. As of this year, 66,857 ewes were certified as being organic. However, through the addition of farmers to the organic farming scheme in 2023, it is expected that an additional 75,170 ewes will be certified organic after their two year conversion process is completed by 2025. A further 41,340 ewes are expected to transition from conventional to being organically certified by 2026, when the ewes present on latest entrants farms to the OFS are considered. This means that if farmers already converted and those in the conversion process retain ewe numbers as is, the total number of organically certified ewes will rise to 183,367 by 2026 – an almost trebling, leading to a significant increase in the number of organic lambs available come 2026.

With additional numbers expected to come on stream and some organic lamb entering conventional systems and missing premium prices, Nolan added: “We want to reduce that as much as possible to reduce this leakage.” He pointed to the opportunities that a guaranteed supply of organic lamb can provide processors to seek new markets, while he noted that more organic lamb finishers were required – particularly in the east of the country – to ensure lambs produced in the west are lost to conventional farming systems. He also touched on the initiatives developed by DAFM to support marketing and trading of organic lamb. Such measures include the reconvening of the Organic Strategy Forum in April 2022, which consists of industry stakeholders and state bodies, and aims – amoung other things – to develop new markets for organic produce, and the introduction of the Green Public Procurement Strategy and Action Plan, which requires that a minimum of 10% of food via public procurement must be certified organic.

Jack Nolan’s full presentation, which offers further insights into organic farming in Ireland, is available to view as a recording of the Signpost Series webinar below: