ICSA Organics chair Fergal Byrne has said a strategy to significantly expand exports of Irish organic produce must be developed in tandem with the push to expand the sector. “Such a strategy is required to ensure the proposed allocation of €256m to the sector as part of the next CAP does not go to waste,” he said.
“ICSA has always argued for greater numbers of cattle and sheep farmers to be supported in switching over to organic farming. As a result of this investment more farmers than ever will have that opportunity, but to attract farmers to the Organics Scheme we must find markets for what they will produce.”
“An ambition to quadruple the number of farmers producing organically means we need to quadruple our markets for organic produce – and that won’t happen without a coherent plan. As it stands, we can barely find markets for what we produce already, and our fear is that as more farmers switch to organics that the markets just won’t be there. At a very minimum, the Government needs to commit to a massive promotional campaign to ensure we can expand the sales of organic beef and lamb into premium European markets.”
“In addition, ABP – who have taken control of the organic meat sector here – must be held to account for their failure to drive increased organic meat sales in EU markets. Organic Irish beef and lamb represent the very best of what we can produce in the most environmentally sustainable way, yet the sector has remained stagnant because there has been no investment in innovation. All organic farmers, as well as those thinking about switching to organic farming, will need to see a big commitment from ABP that they will step up to the plate in pursuing new markets for organic beef and lamb.”
“When it comes to education and training, organic farmers and organic production systems have also been marginalised for far too long. If we are serious about expecting to find 6,500 new organic farmers to reach 7.5% of land under organics then Teagasc will have to allocate the necessary resources to the areas of organic research, training, and advice.”
“Finally, we need to revisit some of the requirements attached to the Organics Scheme that can create barriers for those wishing to switch. In particular, ICSA wants to see changes made to the requirements around housing winter cattle so that housing on slats could be facilitated. Current organics regulations require a lie back area which is not available to many cattle farmers. This is a real impediment for many due to the scarcity of straw and massive cost associated to converting yards and sheds to suit the Organics Scheme. We also know that the high cost of organic ration already makes winter finishing very unattractive.”
Concluding Mr Byrne said, “With this investment in the organics sector we have a great opportunity to support and reward farmers who choose to transition to organic farming, but we must get all these pieces right. These underlying issues must be dealt with in a holistic way if we are to realise the potential. Simply throwing money at a scheme on its own will not be a successful strategy.”