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Teagasc National Organic Conference

The Teagasc National Organic Conference themed ‘Challenges and Opportunities for Organic Producers’ is taking place today, Tuesday, 11 September in Tullamore, as part of a series of events organised for National Organic Week.

There are several challenges facing the development of the organic sector in Ireland. The buoyant conventional farming sector has partly led to a stabilisation in the number of farmers converting to organic farming. Speaking at the Teagasc National Organic Conference, Teagasc Director Professor Gerry Boyle said that the low cost economic model of organic farming coupled with the possibility of favourable EU support in the future and the market opportunities which exist for organic farmers, presents a bright future for the sector. The Food Harvest 2020 report states that an increase in organic land use to 5%, from the current level of just over 1%, is ambitious and will require actions in a number of areas including promotion, marketing, innovation, research and product development. He said that Teagasc are committed to working closely with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to develop the organic sector.

Right now in Europe the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the main event in food and farming policy. Christopher Stopes, President of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) EU Group said that the vision of the new CAP is for greener farming, clearly meeting the needs expressed by society and by taxpayers. Organic food and farming is one such system that fits this vision, it is acknowledged that it can deliver the requirement of a food farming system that is greener, fairer and respect diversity.

Jane Stout, Senior Lecturer and Director of Trinity Centre for Biodiversity at TCD, outlined results of research she supervised showing higher levels of biodiversity on organic farms. ‘The impact of management and landscape context on plants and pollinators in intensive agricultural grasslands’ was the title of Eileen Powers PhD which was funded by DAFM and conducted in collaboration with Teagasc. Part of the project analysed the networks of interactions between insects and flowers on ten pairs of organic and conventional dairy farms in central and southern Ireland. Overall Jane Stout concluded that organic dairying farming is preferable to conventional farming in supporting bees and hoverflies which provide important pollination services within these ecosystems.

In organic farming the concept of sustainable land management is of primary importance and soil quality plays a large role in the production system. Dr Rachel Creamer, Teagasc Johnstown Castle, Wexford discussed the soil management components of sustainable land management in the organic context and also addressed the application of usefulness of indicators of soil quality outlining the European project Teagasc are involved in testing and developing indicators for soil biodiversity.

At the conference representatives from organic farmer producer groups outlined their experiences in developing links within the sector. Speakers included Pat Mulrooney from the Irish Organic Milk Producers and Jason Horner from the Organic Growers of Ireland.

Teagasc researchers presented results on soil quality and nutrition in the context of organic farming; research work on composting; the latest updates on clover research; and key findings on the phytochemical content of organic and conventional food crops.