Plenty of scope to grow the organics sector
Despite the rise in new entrants, just 2pc of Irish farms are certified organic compared to the EU average of 5pc
Published 22/07/2015 | 02:30
The Organic Farming Scheme opened for six weeks in 2015 and figures issued from the Department show that 870 people applied.
Of the 870 entrants, 504 are totally new to organic farming, while the remainder are existing organic farmers that have moved to the new scheme.
Based on these figures there are 1,725 certified organic farmers, or approximately 2pc of all farmers. Ireland is well below the EU average of 5pc with some countries closer to 20pc so there is plenty of room to expand the sector further.
It is crucial that markets are developed to match the increased supply.
All farmers who convert to organic production must undergo a two-year conversion period, they then have full organic status and can sell their produce as organic.
This means that farmers who have just come into organics will not be supplying the organic market until 2017.
"It would appear that the majority of new entrants are from the beef sector," said Gillian Westbrook, of the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association.
"For many years, beef processors have decried the lack of supply as a major problem in terms of securing contracts, so with a guaranteed increase in supply coming down the tracks the challenge is over to the processors to find new markets in the future," she added.
Organic beef processors ready to tender for larger contracts
The Good Herdsmen from Cahir, in Co Tipperary are the largest organic processors of Irish meat and the company's managing director John Purcell is delighted with the rise in new entrants to the sector.
"We have lots of irons in the fire with regard to new contracts, and we have two years before this product carries an organic logo so it is plenty of time to have secure markets in place," said Mr Purcell.
"Here at the Good Herdsmen we have grown the business as the supply has grown and this is our policy for the future, the business will grow in a sustainable manner as the supply continues to come on stream.
"In the past I never had the continuity of supply to go for bigger contracts, with the new farmers who have come into organics I can now tender for the bigger contracts with confidence that I can supply them.
"I am currently in talks with a substantial German retailer and optimistic about our access to new markets based on this supply."
He said the rise in farmers going organic was a "fantastic boost". It is important that there is a good balance between sucklers and beef producers among the new entrants to keep the sector sustainable.
"I think that the price of conventional beef will get strong due to supply issues so that is something that we will need to be aware of, but overall it is good progress.
"However, we are still way behind our EU counterparts, and a far cry from where we could be with organic production - there are markets out there waiting to be serviced," said Mr Purcell.
ABP in Cahir, who work in tandem with the Good Herdsmen and slaughter, de-bone and pack on contract for them, are also positive about the growth in the sector.
Slaney Foods based in Bunclody, Co Wexford also process a substantial amount of organic beef.
"We have seen good growth in demand since we became a Certified Processor of Irish beef with IOFGA," said Slaney Foods managing director Rory Fanning.
"While it is true that the organic product reaches out to a specific market, we believe that this market is growing at a significant rate.
"Therefore the additional farm conversions to organic which will enter the supply chain in two years are well timed," he said.