According to the Agricultural Consultants’ Association (ACA), the attitude of the Irish population towards organic farming is changing as the number of farmers transitioning increases.
Currently, more than 4,000 farmers are practicing organic farming in Ireland, with around 2,200 having transitioned in January 2023 following the latest round of the €256 million Organic Farming Scheme (OFS).
Many newcomers have originated from the beef and sheep sectors on the west coast, enticed by an almost 50% increase in payments under the new scheme.
For the upcoming year, a significant number of farmers are expected to transition when the OFS reopens this fall.
Mary Lynch, organic specialist at the ACA, told Agriland that organic transition makes sense for many farmers. “Organic farmers have become more visible in recent years. People now know someone in almost every area who is an organic farmer. They see the grass growing, the livestock looking healthy. They talk to them, and often, encouragement or advice from farmer to farmer is a crucial component,” she said.
The organic specialist added that farmers can perceive the direction of agricultural policy, with an increased emphasis on environmental issues such as water quality and biodiversity. “Farmers are forward-looking. They’re wondering how they can continue farming for the next 10 years. They can see that organic farming comes with extra payments, but it will also help them comply with any other future regulations.”
The ACA has utilized €150,000 in funding allocated by the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine (DAFM) to train advisors in the regulations surrounding organic farming and the creation of transition plans. Over 70% of the organic transition plans submitted last year were from ACA members.
One of the challenges is to find markets for organic lamb, following ‘a significant increase’ in sheep farmers opting to transition. Lynch notes that a second meat processing plant now handles organic lamb and that it will take some time for the additional supply to enter the system, as full organic transition takes two years.
Regarding organic beef, the major issue lies in the lack of consistent supply needed to pursue market opportunities.
“On the beef side, we are fairly confident that markets will be there. It ticks all the boxes for high animal welfare, good environmental standards, non-genetically modified feed; all the things European consumers are looking for.”
The ACA’s organic specialist offers a dedicated 25-hour course for farmers who have recently transitioned or are considering transitioning.
Lynch anticipates a significant increase in the number of transitioning farmers when the OFS reopens this fall.
“We certainly had some farmers who didn’t participate last year because they needed to get their housing in order or maybe they had a few jobs they wanted to do before they entered,” she said.
“Beef farmers have had another tough year, so they’re looking at other ways to sustain their income. Organic will be an attractive option in many cases. The fact that it’s easier to obtain the necessary information helps. We’re hoping for another 2,000 participants next year.”