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Pippa Hackett: ‘Insatiable demand’ for organic Irish beef in Germany

Leading a recent trade mission to Germany’s Biofach organic trade fair, the Minister said the country’s retailers are keen on Irish products, with fresh meat and high-end cuts most in demand


Pippa Hackett runs her own beef farm as an organic operation. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Pippa Hackett runs her own beef farm as an organic operation. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Pippa Hackett runs her own beef farm as an organic operation. Photo: Gerry Mooney

There is “an insatiable demand for organic Irish beef” in Germany, according to Pippa Hackett, who led a recent trade mission to the German organic trade fair Biofach.

Speaking to the Farming Independent in Nuremberg, the Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity said German retailers want more Irish beef.

“Certainly from speaking to one of the largest German organic retailers, there seems to be a large and strong demand for Irish beef. They said ‘whatever you’ve got, we’ll take’.

“They love our organic beef and we just supply so little in one sense and there seems to be an insatiable demand for Irish beef.

“Germany is quite unique, and I think France would be similar as well in that they have stand-alone, 100pc organic stores, big supermarkets and it’s all organic. And that’s certainly an option for our products in the short to medium term.”

Fresh meat and high-end cuts are most in demand, the Minister said, and the baby food sector also offers opportunities for Irish suppliers.

“I understand, even from our own beef (on the home farm) a lot of that ends up in baby food. They’re looking for high-quality organic beef, it is highly demanded and sought after.”

Dairy and lamb are also in demand in Germany, she said, which could offer potential export opportunities for Irish farmers.

“A lot of our organic lamb already comes to Germany so certainly Germany seems to be a hub that we could engage with, they like and they want our products.”

Food inflation is hurting everyone’s pockets, including the German organic market, the minister said, but she is confident it will “bounce back.”

“I think it is an issue and I think it’s affecting even the German organic market a little bit in the last couple of years but they seem happy enough that it will bounce back.

“It might be stagnated for a little bit, but on the whole, I think the direction of travel, excluding all the crises that we’re surrounded by at the moment, is for more sustainable farming — something that is benefiting nature, restoring biodiversity and water quality and I think organic certainly ticks all of those boxes. It’s not the only solution but it’s a big part of the solution.”

While the German consumer knows and trusts what organic means, Pippa Hackett says communication and education is needed in the Irish market.

“In Ireland many consumers know and trust the Quality Assurance label and it’s about adding on to that.

“I think there’s a communication and education piece there for our own consumers as to what organic means. Then you can differentiate. Then they know to trust that... and it’s good for nature and it’s good for animal welfare as well as being free from fertiliser, pesticides.”

While the Minister said she’d like to see 20pc or even 10pc of the Irish food shop organic, she also said it’s about consumers having access to organic food.

“We import a lot of organic food, so I mean ideally, let’s get local, let’s get organic and let’s try and get it domestically produced.”

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The Minister recently announced enhanced rates of pay for organics, which she thinks will help Ireland achieve the 7.5pc goal set under the Programme for Government.

This target is “eminently doable”, she said.

“The Irish average of 7.5pc was negotiated at the Programme for Government time and that was the average EU back then, that’s why we picked that figure.

“The (EU) average now is nearly 10pc, that’s how much it has grown in two years across Europe. So if Europe can do that, relatively organically, and I know the targets are much higher again, 25pc by 2030, I think we can do this.”

Whether Ireland can get to more than 7.5pc, is something she’d love to see, but admits “we have to be realistic”.

“Let’s walk before we can run but I think if we can build on this momentum and if we get to the 7.5pc... I think we would have a critical mass there that we would have more co-operation between farmers and with the agencies and so forth that we could maybe build on that.

“I think we have the funds there like never before, I think there’s a momentum there now and I think for the first time we’ve got real proper engagement from farmers on the ground, from the advisors, from Teagasc, ACA and Bord Bia and certainly from my department so I think yeah, we’ll do it.”

The Green Party senator and her husband Mark have been running their beef farm as an organic operation for the last 10 years, but it was a change that didn’t happen overnight.

“My husband Mark and I had young kids and we had an organic garden anyway and we were quite environmentally minded. We weren’t massively intensive but we still were fertilising and spraying the docks and the nettles and pretty much doing normal, conventional farming.

“As the kids got a little bit older, I just said ‘let’s do this’.”

Her husband was “a little more stand-offish” she says, and “looked a lot more into the economics of it.

“And he didn’t tell people for a while, he didn’t tell his parents for about six months actually, that we had converted the farm and I think that hopefully isn’t quite the same now.

“But there was a certain sense of ‘you’re going backwards, you’re going back to the 1940s’, and it’s not that, in fact, you’re actually thinking forwards and I think that acceptance that it’s fine is what’s needed.

“When you see the number of organic farms in Germany and the percentage, and how accepted it is, I think we need to get to that in Ireland where it’s not considered something so radical.”

It’s this shift in mindset from conventional to organic that will be the biggest challenge in Ireland, the minister said. “Farming organically can be quite similar to farming non-organically but it can be different as well and part of that is longer-term planning.

"You’re not only thinking about what you might do with your land maybe six months or a year in advance, but you’re also looking further down the line. Once you get used to that system it’s fine.”

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