The public consultation process on the new strategic plan for the development of the organic sector has been extended to Thursday, June, 14th, 2018.
Initially the closing date for written submissions to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine was set at Thursday, May, 31st, 2018.
Mark Hackett is an organic suckler and sheep farmer based near Geashill in Co Offaly, and an Inspector with the Organic Trust has written the following letter from the perspective of a farmer who converted a number of years ago, and highlights the benefits it has brought to our farm and family.
Dear Minister Doyle,
Thank you for this opportunity to submit to this public consultation on the new strategic plan for the development of the Organic sector in Ireland.
As you are well aware, the organic sector in Ireland has, for too long, been the poor relation of farming; and it is a sector that requires immediate overhaul and development.
Many farmers, myself included, are only sustainable as farmers because of the organic farming scheme (OFS). Six or seven years ago, my wife and I took a lot of time to consider the future of our farm. We were a typical medium-sized suckler and sheep farm, and we were struggling on many levels to see a future on our farm. We made the decision to convert to organic farming, and have not looked back. The support from the scheme was vital, and we can now see the benefits this option has made to us and to our family.
For us, the financial rewards are significant (both from the scheme itself, the lower costs of production, and the premium paid for our beef, and sometimes our lamb). Equally importantly, we can see the environmental benefits, in the improved biodiversity, the cleaner waterways, and the increased life in our soils on our farm. Our animals are also happier and healthier. They have more space and bedded sheds to lie in during the winter, and lower stocking rates and a longer grazing season have almost eliminated our disease occurrences.
The lower carbon footprint of our farm (as substantiated by our Bord Bía inspection) is also comforting, as we know are contributing directly in reducing our country’s climate emissions (unfortunately, unlike many other sectors of agriculture).
There are emotional and psychological benefits too. I have garnered a new enthusiasm for farming, my farming knowledge and skills have improved, and knowing that we supporting a more nature-friendly approach to farming, gives me a great sense of achievement, especially as we have four children to support and raise. We have found ourselves communicating and discussing these positive benefits to other farmers and would see the re-opening of the OFS as a huge assistance and support to many farmers who are facing farm-related stress in their lives.
The “conventional” sector could learn a lot from organic farming techniques. It is now evident in Ireland, that it is possible to farm profitably without synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, so perhaps this sector could at least consider farming with less of these chemical applications.
It is clear that the demand for organic food at home and throughout Europe is growing significantly, so it seems ridiculous that a country so suited to this type of farming, should be preventing growth in this sector. Irish consumers rely almost entirely on imported organic produce, and while we cannot grow organic oranges or avocados, we can successfully produce a large range of other organic products here – but our growers and producers need the support to do this.
At less than 2% of the land in Ireland classified as organic, it is a long way off the targeted 5% in the Department’s Food Harvest 2020 strategy, and even further away from the EU average of 6%. The Irish Government needs to commit to proper support for this sector, which can deliver more than just good food for our country. The tourism sector can benefit too, and Ireland’s image as a clean, green island demands a strong organic sector to truly reinforce this appearance. The EU is supplying the funds, yet the government is choosing not to spend it on this important sector. A shift in agricultural policy is needed.
Larger farms need more encouragement to become organic, particularly in the dairy sector, where conversion to organic farming might be seen as a more enticing option than expansion. Incentives for smaller abattoirs to process and seek out markets for organic meats is another suggestion. Butchers and fruit and vegetable shops could also receive government support to sell Irish organic produce.
Like anything new, it takes a while for anyone to adjust and to change, and indeed it took me a while to adapt to and embrace organic farming. However, they say a change is as good as a break, and I am now a proud, progressive, profitable, and more significantly a happier farmer, and I would love to see the opportunities I have had in the organic farming sector, available to all my farming colleagues.
I hope you give due consideration to this, and to the other submissions on the future of the organic sector. It is vital that Ireland has a stronger, more vibrant organic sector if it is to sincerely and earnestly address the many concerns facing our agricultural sector at this time.
Mark Hackett, BSc Agriculture