Irish shoppers are increasingly purchasing organic food, with sales having risen 20% last year. But we have the second-smallest organic sector in the EU, after Malta, with just 1.6% of Irish producers registered as organic. Eurostat reported last week that Austria has the highest percentage of organic farmers with 20% and Sweden is second with 17%.
So why are so few farmers here willing to supply a sector that is clearly growing? One reason is that the EU/state joint-funded Organic Farming Scheme has been closed to new entrants since 2015. The Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association development officer Grace Maher said at the weekend, “We've had a lot of interest from farmers who wish to come into the sector but are reluctant to do so without the scheme being opened to new entrants.”
The Department of Agriculture said the scheme's €10 million budget had been fully committed. It stated: “If it appears that additional funds are likely to become available, the minister has already indicated he will look carefully at the possibility of reopening this scheme in a targeted fashion.”
There have been numerous calls for initiatives to encourage new entrants to the organic sector. An Taisce's climate committee spokesman John Gibbons said, “Ireland is trading strongly on its green credentials and I think the Eurostat figures show it's essentially a sleight of hand. If we were serious about sustainable agriculture, then clearly the route we would take would be organic farming.”
Eurostat's latest figures indicate that the trend towards organic is general across Europe and that farming communities are not meeting the demand. In its assessment, Eurostat notes: “The growth trends highlight the importance of using the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and other agri-food policies to create a more positive environment in which farmers and food companies feel confident making significant investment decisions. Without these investments, Europe will not be able to meet the growing demand amongst EU consumers for organic food.”