Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 February 2018

'I am much better off financially after making organic switch'

Grace Maher

Grace Maher

The key question coming from farmers is whether organic farming is economically viable. With 1.3pc of farmers in Ireland certified as organic, and an ambitious target of 5pc set under Food Harvest 2020, it is difficult to account for such a low conversion rate here.

Average EU rates are at 6pc, with some countries, such as Sweden at a 20pc production levels, so what is holding Irish farmers back?

Organic farming is often perceived as non-commercial farming. However, that was clearly not the message given by a variety of organic farmers and industry leaders, who spoke at Coolanowle Organic Farm recently.

Discussions at the event, hosted by IOFGA, was on the theme 'Economics of Organic Production and Market Prices'.

John Purcell, from The Goodherdsmen, and Rory Fanning from Slaney Foods, outlined the growing demand for Irish organic beef both at home and in the export market.

The Goodherdsmen is seeking an additional 1,000 calves for 2014 so the company will be actively sourcing weanlings.

Slaney Foods are also processing organic lamb, one third of which goes to the French market. In 2012 there were 981 organic cattle farms (non-dairy) and 41,381 organic cattle (non-dairy) in Ireland.

This represented an increase of 19pc in cattle farms and a 38pc increase in cattle numbers since 2007.

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From January 2013 to the end of October, the average price difference for organic beef versus conventional was 26pc higher than R3 steers, and 30pc higher than O2 heifers.

With high prices paid for all organic cereal crops, it is one sector where market returns are certainly attractive.

Trevor Harris, an organic farmer from Kildare, stressed that as Ireland is a net importer of organic cereals, the market is very strong for Irish producers.

"Taking into consideration sowing costs and nutrient replacement costs, it is still the most profitable part of my business," Trevor said.

Alan Mooney, also from Kildare, farms 160ac, 120ac of which were previously in continuous winter cereals used for store to beef enterprise.

Citing too much volatility in market prices and increased input costs, Alan looked at organic production.

Initially he put 120ac into conversion, before finally bringing the whole farm into organic production in 2013.

"I was becoming alarmed by the increasing levels of fungicide and herbicide resistance, particularly with regard to sulfonylurea herbicides, and strobilurins fungicides widely used in tillage.

"So in 2009 I took the jump and converted to organic production. Despite lower yields, I am much better off financially and enjoy farming with nature rather than against it," Alan said.

So the overwhelming message coming from the industry representatives and farmers, (all of whom are IOFGA certified), is that organic farming is commercially viable, and offers producers good returns.

There are associated costs with converting your farm but market prices across the sector are strong and stable.

The EU organic market is currently valued at €21bn and growing year on year, something which may interest farmers looking to the future.

Irish Independent