In July 2008 the Board of Directors of IOA presented their Manifesto for the Development of the Organic Sector 2007-2012 to the newly appointed Minister for Food and Horticulture Trevor Sargent. It outlines the main objectives that need to be introduced in order to allow the organic sector to expand in a sustainable manner.
A new study by Newcastle University proves that organic farmers who let their cows graze as nature intended are producing better quality milk.
The Nafferton Ecological Farming Group study found that grazing cows on organic farms in the UK produce milk which contains significantly higher beneficial fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins than their conventional â€˜high inputâ€™ counterparts.
During the summer months, one of the beneficial fats in particular â€“ conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA9 â€“ was found to be 60% higher.
The results of this study into UK dairy production are published online in the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture.
â€˜We have known for some time that what cows are fed has a big influence on milk quality,â€™ explained Gillian Butler, livestock project manager for the Nafferton Ecological Farming Group at Newcastle University, who led the study. â€˜What is different about this research is it clearly shows that on organic farms, letting cows graze naturally, using forage-based diet, is the most important reason for the differences in the composition between organic and conventional milk.
â€˜Weâ€™ve shown that significant seasonal differences exist, with nutritionally desirable fatty acids and antioxidants being highest during the summer, when the cows are eating fresh grass and clover.
Gordon Tweddle, of Acorn Dairy in County Durham, is a local supplier of organic milk. â€˜We have believed for some time that organic milk is better for us and our customers tell us it tastes better,â€™ he said. â€˜It is satisfying to have the scientific explanation as to why it is also nutritionally better.â€™
This current research confirms previous studies in the UK, which reported higher concentrations of omega 3 fatty acids in milk from organic production systems than conventional ones.
CLA, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and carotenoids have all been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. CLA is hugely popular in the US, where it is marketed as a nutritional supplement. However, synthetic supplements often contain compounds with a different chemical composition (isomer balance) than those occurring naturally in milk, resulting in an equal dose of both â€˜goodâ€™ (i.e. CLA9, omega-3 fatty acid, vitamin E and carotenoids) and â€˜less desirableâ€™ fatty acids (i.e. omega-6 fatty acids and CLA10).
â€˜Switching to organic milk provides an alternative, natural way to increase our intake of nutritionally desirable fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants without increasing our intake of less desirable fatty acids and synthetic forms of vitamin E,â€™ said Mrs Butler. â€˜In organic milk, the omega-3 levels increase but the omega-6 does not, which helps to improve the crucial ratio between the two.â€™
The study involved 25 farms across the UK in two contrasting areas of the UK â€“ South Wales and the North East. The scientists looked at three different farming systems: conventional high input, organically certified, and non-organic sustainable (low-input).
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Minister Trevor Sargent today launched the Organic Farming Action Plan which outlines how the Minister plans to achieve the ambitious target of 5% of agricultural land certified as organic by 2012.
The plan is indeed ambitious as the current status of organic production stands at just over 41,000 hectares which translates to 0.9% of the utilisable agricultural area in Ireland. The Minister reiterated his personal commitment and that of the government to develop the organic sector and to achieve this target.
The Minister stated that organic farming has a major role to play in meeting the ever-increasing challenges of depleting oil supplies, climate change and the provision of a sustainable supply of food for Ireland for the future. This is particularly poignant as the price of inputs in the conventional sector rockets as prices of $200 a barrel of oil may become a reality in the not too distant future.
The four main objectives outlined in the Action Plan are to :
â€¢ Increase Production in lreland in line with market requirements
â€¢ Increase the knowledge base in organic food and farming
â€¢ Develop the market for organic produce in Ireland and abroad
â€¢ Encourage the development of Public Procurement Opportunities for organic products
A list of over 60 actions are outlined which illustrates practically how the objectives will be achieved. It involves the co-operation and commitment of all the stakeholders on the National Steering Group for the organic sector. The National Steering Group now in its second 3 year term, is made up of a wide range of stakeholders representing organic farmers, mainstream farmers, the food and processing and retail sectors, semi-state bodies, consumers and organic certification bodies. The work of the NSG is supported by two sub groups, the Organic Marketing Development Group and the Partnership Expert Working Group. Only through a combined and concentrated effort on behalf of all of the stakeholders involved will this target be achieved.
There are many incentives for farmers to consider converting to organic farming including the Organic Farming Scheme and also the grant scheme for the organic sector which is offered by the Organic Unit in the Department of Agriculture. However a major incentive which needs to be considered is that there is a growth in public demand for organic products. Currently the majority of this demand is being met by importing organic products but this illustrates a huge potential for Irish farmers to convert to organic production and meet this demand locally.
Growth in the organic sector needs to be market driven the current situation shows that the organic market is in a healthy position and now the challenge is to increase production levels to meet the demands of consumers. This was a point reiterated by Professor Gerry Boyle Director of Teagasc as he outlined Teagascâ€™s commitment to the Action Plan. â€œThe organic market is there and there is an extraordinary potential to be exploited by Irish farmers. Any agricultural activity which generates profit should be encouraged and organic farming is one such activityâ€.
Minister Sargent also outlined his personnel interest in developing the organic horticulture sector and also the plans to develop a third level organic farming educational course in Ireland. These developments will be welcomed widely in the sector.
The deadline of May 15th for admission to the Organic Farming Scheme will be a slight stumbling block in terms of the numbers of farmers entering the scheme this year. However this will allow extra time for planning and preparation for farmers to prepare to join the scheme in January 2009. The Minister and his officials are currently talking to the EU Commission regarding the problem that farmers have to be in REPS 4 in order to avail of the new Organic Farming Scheme this has meant a limited uptake of the scheme to date.
The launch of the Organic Farming Action Plan 2008-2012 is a historic occasion and the â€œseeds will be sown in the months to comeâ€ in order to achieve the ambitious but realistic target of 5%. Organic farming has a bright future in this country and IOA welcomes the opportunity to work closely with the Minister and the various stakeholders to develop the organic sector in Ireland.
Press Release issued by IOA 30/04/08
Development Officer IOFGA
Tel 087 6125989
The announcement that the deadline for entrants to REPS 4 is May 15th will seriously limit the growth of the organic farming sector this year. This leaves farmers 6 weeks to finalise their REPS Plans and enter into the scheme. This is not realistic as many potential members had hoped to join the scheme throughout the year or had planned to do so once their current REPS Plan had finished later in the year.
At a time when the Minister for Food and Horticulture, Trevor Sargent T.D. is calling for more entrants into the organic sector it is disappointing that these new regulations have been issued by the Commission. The regulations will force farmers wishing to join the new Organic Farming Scheme in 2008 to apply to the Department by the 15th of May or to defer joining for another year. This will seriously affect the numbers joining the scheme as farmers intending to convert need time to consider their options and plan their conversion in an organised way.
The new Commission Regulations also lay down rules for the way in which farmers will be paid under the new Organic Farming Scheme:
â€¢ Payment will be on a calendar year basis; in other words a farmer will be paid for the number of months in the year in which he or she is in the Scheme.
â€¢ Payment will be in two stages. The first payment, which will be at the rate of 75%, will be released when the administrative checks (both for the Scheme itself and for the Single Payment Scheme) are completed. In practice this is likely to be early autumn.
â€¢ The remaining 25% will be released when the last of the on-farm inspections for the year has taken place. This is likely to be towards the end of the year, probably December
These regulations from the Commission are an attempt to centralise all farm payments and in the long term are intended to lead to more efficient use of resources in Europe. However in the meantime the organic sector in Ireland may suffer as it may not get farmers converting to organics in large numbers this year.
The programme for government set out a target of 5% of land to be certified organic by 2012 which will require large numbers of farmers converting each year. This will also ensure that growth in the sector is market led.
There is a growing demand for organic products among Irish consumers and it is important that the sector is able to meet that demand with high quality organic Irish food. This is a challenge which remains elusive while regulations such as this regarding REPS 4 and the Organic Farming Scheme are made with little regard for the organic sector.
Press release issued April 4th 08