Sales of organic food in Ireland are up 20pc, boosting the prospects for farmers who have converted to organic production in the last 12 months.
The market is now valued at €136m, up €22m on this time last year, according to Kantar WorldPanel, and this compares favourably to a 3.1pc growth in overall grocery sales.
This market growth is mirrored across Europe, with Italy, Germany and France all reporting significant increases in organic sales year on year for the last seven years.
With just 2pc of Irish farmers certified organic, it remains frustrating that farmers continue to ignore one of the most obvious market opportunities available to them.
Irish farmers are producing high-quality goods but receiving commodity prices for them.
Production costs continue to rise while prices fall, the agribusiness giants' profits increase while farmers decrease.
Sustainability is a term widely used in agriculture, but surely economic sustainability is key to keeping families on farms, the length and breadth of the country. In a post-Brexit world much remains uncertain, however, in recent weeks, European economic analysts have predicted that Ireland will be severely hit for the next three to five years.
The "unique position" that Ireland is claiming to have with the UK to other EU member states may indeed come true as we feel the negative impacts of Brexit more severely and uniquely than other countries.
While Ireland has competent negotiators operating at EU level on our behalf, we must also ensure that the Irish Government is looking at every opportunity to develop policies to support the agricultural sector.
Throw TTIP and the Mercosur trade talks into the mix, and we are looking at a very uncertain future for Irish farmers. One thing that we must not lose sight of is that we cannot compete on price but we certainly can deliver on quality.
The increased sales recorded by Kantar are based on sales in the major supermarkets only.
IOFGA as an organic certification body can verify that this growth is also reported by members selling in other outlets.
"Producers who sell into independent retail chains, online and direct to the consumer are experiencing an increase in demand for their organic goods.
"Some producers are struggling to keep up with this demand. Consumer confidence is high and shows no sign of abating; simply put, people want local organic food, they have a high value on it and are willing to pay a fair price for it," said Gillian Westbrook, IOFGA general manager.
As an exporting nation, we need to look at real opportunities at home and abroad, and a European organic market valued at €23bn simply cannot be ignored by Irish farmers or policymakers.
Grace Maher is development officer with the IOFGA, www.iofga.org
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