Irish organic producers need to engage with the ongoing CAP negotiations to secure rural development schemes with the potential to offer additional incomes streams, IOFGA has declared.
Speaking at a recent conference hosted by IOFGA and IFOAM EU Group (International Federation for Organic Agriculture Movements), IOFGA general manager Gillian Westbrook also called for agri-environment and organic schemes to run for a longer term of seven years instead of five.
The move would give greater stability to organic farmers, she told conference delegates.
Discussions at the conference, entitled 'A new green agenda for Farming and Rural Areas in Europe' centred on CAP reform and how rural areas might benefit from the current negotiations.
Jan Plagge, chairman of the IFOAM EU farmers' sector group, stressed that organic farming was delivering public goods for Europe.
"We want to move towards 20pc of land certified organic. Some countries are already approaching this, but we need to work within the CAP on new research and innovation policies," he said.
According to the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, the organic market in Europe was worth €21.1bn in 2010.
Obviously there are market differences in European countries, but the levels of conversion to organic production and their requisite supports have developed at very different rates.
For example, Austria, Spain, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Sweden all have organically farmed areas in excess of 10pc, while Ireland, Malta and Bulgaria remain under 2pc.
With an average of 5pc of land certified organic in Europe, we are clearly lagging behind. It is obvious that the level of support directly impacts on the uptake of organic production.
Throughout Europe, national governments design support schemes based on a variety of aspects such as internal policy, regional variations and geographical constraints, internal and export markets, and the state of the national economy.
There are several reasons for the low conversion rate to organic farming in Ireland, including the misconception that organic is not commercial farming.
Gillian Westbrook from IOFGA recently analysed the support levels received by organic farmers around Europe. Most EU countries provide area payments for the organic sector under the Rural Development Programme in Axis II of CAP. In addition, some member states, but not all, make use of other funding streams under Axis I and III, such as forestry and improving rural life and diversification. These are paid in addition to per hectare payments for organic production.
Generally, countries that paid farmers high levels when they were converting to organic farming also paid high maintenance levels once farmers received their full organic symbol.
For ease of comparison between countries' land use, categories were developed; in an Irish context the most significant are grassland and arable.
Irish farmers receive €106/ha up to 55ha for organic grassland maintenance, as well as €212 for the 24-month conversion period. This places Ireland in 14th position out of the 22 member states assessed.
Irish organic farmers fare even worse on arable payments, coming in second lowest on the table with a payment of €106/ha once they have their full symbol.
Bearing this in mind, it is essential that the organic sector participates in the ongoing CAP negotiations, particularly on rural development measures that offer potential for additional income streams for organic farmers.
While the European market is buoyant, the organic sector in Ireland has dropped to €93m (this figure does not include organic exports), a fall of €7m since 2010. As the trilogue negotiations continue, it appears that existing rural development programmes will be prolonged until 2015 and that any new projects will only be envisaged once the CAP talks are finalised.