Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Degree course could boost organics sector

Rollout of new apprenticeship scheme can aid sustainable commercial organic set-up

Grace Maher

Grace Maher

The absence of degree courses in organic agriculture is a big drawback for entrants to organic farming in this country.

The majority of organic farmers, however, have conventional farming experience and therefore have essential knowledge of animal husbandry and crop production before they convert to organic production.

Just 1.3pc of our farms are organic so it is arguable that there is not enough demand for a degree course; however, if a degree course was offered you would see an increase in numbers entering the sector.

This would also generate badly needed research on organic farming specific to Ireland.

Organic horticulture has fared better as innovative solutions have been developed over the years to train new entrants. Examples include FETAC Level 5 courses and a successful distance learning course run from the Organic College in Limerick.

There is no degree course in organic horticulture, but it is possible to do an MSc in organic horticulture at the Liss Ard Estate in Skibbereen.

Now in its second year, the course is accredited by UCC.

And an exciting new practical learning approach has been launched by the Organic Growers of Ireland. This apprenticeship scheme for growers may suit commercial growers who wish to up-skill to commercial organic farming.

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Meanwhile, the knowledge transfer groups and European Innovation Partnerships (EIPs) envisaged in the new RDP have the potential to bring farmers, advisors, researchers and business together to develop targeted training programmes with an emphasis on practical learning.

The Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA) has identified opportunities for the organic sector to develop programmes under these initiatives over the next six years.

These programmes should be beneficial for those who want specialised learning.

This type of specialised training may eventually become even more important than degree level courses, especially for established producers.

Grace Maher is Development Officer with IOFGA

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