Minister Sows The Seeds For Expansion Of Organic Farming

Minister Sows The Seeds For Expansion Of Organic Farming

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 :
• Increase Production in lreland in line with market requirements
• Increase the knowledge base in organic food and farming
• Develop the market for organic produce in Ireland and abroad
• 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 Teagasc’s commitment to the Action Plan. “The 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 activity”.

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 “seeds will be sown in the months to come” 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
Grace Maher
Development Officer IOFGA
Tel 087 6125989