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Challenges and Opportunities for Organic Sector

The area under organic production in Ireland has doubled during the past decade. There are now 1,632 organic producers in Ireland farming a total area of 52,390 hectares, representing approximately 1.2 per cent of the total agricultural area. Teagasc organic adviser Pat Barry outlined the current position in his address to the Teagasc Organic Conference in Birr, County Offaly, today.

Teagasc Director Professor Gerry Boyle said: “The Recent Food Harvest 2020 committee endorsed the targets set out in Programme for Government. An increase in organic land use to five per cent from the current level of just over one per cent, which is ambitious and will require actions in a number of areas including promotion, marketing, innovation, research and product development.”

The conference, which is focusing on the challenges and opportunities for organic producers, was officially opened by the Minister for Sustainable Transport, Horticulture and Planning, Ciaran Cuffe TD. Addressing the delegates he said; “I am confident that the domestic and export opportunities that exist will provide reward for all the hard work, time and effort. My primary objective is to encourage farmers to take advantage of domestic and export opportunities for organic produce and, by doing so to maximise their potential income.”

Over 1,500 farmers have attended farm walks organised by Teagasc this year, demonstrating organic farming in practise. Professor Boyle told the conference that Teagasc intend to use the BETTER Farm Programme to transfer knowledge to organic producers in the near future. He also pointed out that over 400 farmers have completed 25-hour FETAC accredited courses in the past 12 months and Teagasc will be offering these courses again nationwide over the coming months.

At the conference Teagasc launched a new DVD, “The Organic Option – Success Stories”, which features case studies of organic farmers across the country. It showcases organic farming in practise and the farmers’ testimonials will be very useful in the future to encourage others into organic farming.

The market opportunities for Irish organic beef were outlined by John Purcell, of Good Herdsmen. He pointed out that organic meat processors don’t need to look any further than mainland Europe to find secure markets. Currently the Irish market consumes the meat from 2,500 organic cattle per year. But there is the potential to export 10,000 cattle to export markets. To meet this demand there is an opportunity for suckling and beef farmers to supply an extra 6,000 cattle to make a strong presence on the European market.

Current statistics would indicate that there are nearly 27,000 organic lambs produced in Ireland. But more than half the organic lamb is produced during July, August, and September. Lack of supply is identified as a major problem during the first half of the year.

The Irish organic food market is estimated to be worth €90 million with fruit and vegetables accounting for 35 per cent of total organic sales and yoghurt sales account for over 17 per cent.